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Reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 
From the original edition of 1953 
First AMS EDITION published 1968 
Manufactured in the United States of America 

Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 68-54290 


New York, N.Y. 10003 


This book is based upon lectures originally given at 
Ruskin College, Oxford, England. Three of these — 
Chapter I, " Science and Tradition," Chapter II, "Gen- 
eral Effects of Scientific Techniques," and Chapter VI, 
"Science and Values" — were subsequently repeated at 
Columbia University, New York, and published by 
the Columbia University Press. None of the other chap- 
ters have been published before in the United States. 
The last chapter in the present book, "Can a Scientific 
Society be Stable?" was the Lloyd Roberts Lecture given 
at the Royal Society of Medicine, London. 



I. Science and Tradition i 

II. General Effects of Scientific Technique 18 

III. Scientific Technique in an Oligarchy 43 

IV. Democracy and Scientific Technique 56 
V. Science and War 7 1 

VI. Science and Values 77 

VII. Can a Scientific Society Be Stable? 96 


Science and Tradition 

Man has existed for about a million years. He has 
possessed writing for about 6,000 years, agricul- 
ture somewhat longer, but perhaps not much 
longer. Science, as a dominant factor in determining the 
beliefs of educated men, has existed for about 300 years; as a 
source of economic technique, for about 150 years. In this 
brief period it has proved itself an incredibly powerful 
revolutionary force. When we consider how recently it has 
risen to power, we find ourselves forced to believe that we 
are at the very beginning of its work in transforming human 
life. What its future effects will be is a matter of conjecture, 
but possibly a study of its effects hitherto may make the 
conjecture a little less hazardous. 

The effects of science are of various very different kinds. 
There are direct intellectual effects : the dispelling of many 
traditional beliefs, and the adoption of others suggested by 
the success of scientific method. Then there are effects on 
technique in industry and war. Then, chiefly as a consequence 
of new techniques, there are profound changes in social 
organization which are gradually bringing about correspond- 
ing political changes. Finally, as a result of the new control 
over the environment which scientific knowledge has con- 



ferred, a new philosophy is growing up, involving a changed 
conception of man's place in the universe. 

I shall deal successively with these aspects of the effects of 
science on human life. First I shall recount its purely intellec- 
tual effect as a solvent of unfounded traditional beliefs, such 
as witchcraft. Next, I shall consider scientific technique, 
especially since the industrial revolution. Last, I shall set 
forth the philosophy which is being suggested by the tri- 
umphs of science, and shall contend that this philosophy, if 
unchecked, may inspire a form of unwisdom from which 
disastrous consequences may result. 

The study of anthropology has made us vividly aware of 
the mass of unfounded beliefs that influence the lives of un- 
civilized human beings. Illness is attributed to sorcery, fail- 
ure of crops to angry gods or malignant demons. Human 
sacrifice is thought to promote victory in war and the fertility 
of the soil; eclipses and comets are held to presage disaster. 
The life of the savage is hemmed in by taboos, and the conse- 
quences of infringing a taboo are thought to be frightful. 

Some parts of this primitive outlook died out early in the 
regions in which civilization began. There are traces of 
human sacrifice in the Old Testament, for instance in the 
stories of Jephthah's daughter and of Abraham and Isaac, 
but by the time the Jews became fully historical they had 
abandoned the practice. The Greeks abandoned it in about 
the seventh century b.c. But the Carthaginians still practiced 
it during the Punic Wars. The decay of human sacrifice 
in Mediterranean countries is not attributable to science, but 
presumably to humanitarian feelings. In other respects, 
however, science has been the chief agent in dispelling primi- 
tive superstitions. 

Eclipses were the earliest natural phenomena to escape 


from superstition into science. The Babylonians could pre- 
dict them, though as regards solar eclipses their predictions 
were not always right. But the priests kept this knowledge to 
themselves, and used it as a means of increasing their hold 
over the populace. When the Greeks learned what the 
Babylonians had to teach, they very quickly arrived at as- 
tonishing astronomical discoveries. Thucydides mentions an 
eclipse of the sun, and says that it occurred at the new moon, 
which, he goes on to observe, is apparently the only time at 
which such a phenomenon can occur. The Pythagoreans, 
very shortly after this time, discovered the correct theory of 
both solar and lunar eclipses, and inferred that the earth is a 
sphere from the shape of its shadow on the moon. 

Although, for the best minds, eclipses were thus brought 
within the domain of science, it was a long time before this 
knowledge was generally accepted. Milton could still speak 
of times when the sun 

In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds 
On half the nations, and with fear of change 
Perplexes monarchs. 

But in Milton this had become only poetic license. 

It was very much longer before comets were brought 
within the compass of science; indeed the process was com- 
pleted only by the work of Newton and his friend Halley. 
Caesar's death was foretold by a comet; as Shakespeare 
makes Calpurnia say: 

When beggars die, there are no comets seen; 

The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. 

The Venerable Bede asserted: "comets portend revolu- 
tions of kingdoms, pestilence, war, winds, or heat." John 


Knox regarded comets as evidence of divine anger, and his 
followers thought them "a warning to the King to extirpate 
the Papists." Probably Shakespeare still held beliefs of a 
superstitious kind about comets. It was only when they were 
found to obey the law of gravitation, and when some at least 
were found to have calculable orbits, that educated men in 
general ceased to regard them as portents. 

It was in the time of Charles II that scientific rejection of 
traditional superstitions became common among educated 
men. Charles II perceived that science could be an ally 
against the "fanatics," as those who regretted Cromwell 
were called. He founded the Royal Society, and made science 
fashionable. Enlightenment spread gradually downwards 
from the Court. The House of Commons was as yet by no 
means as modern in outlook as the King. After the plague 
and the Great Fire, a House of Commons Committee in- 
quired into the causes of those misfortunes, which were 
generally attributed to divine displeasure, though it was not 
clear to what the displeasure was due. The Committee 
decided that what most displeased the Lord was the works of 
Mr. Thomas Hobbes. It was decreed that no work of his 
should be published in England. This measure proved effec- 
tive: there has never since been a plague or a Great Fire in 
London. But Charles, who liked Hobbes because Hobbes had 
taught him mathematics, was annoyed. He, however, was 
not thought by Parliament to be on intimate terms with 

It was at this time that belief in witchcraft began to be 
viewed as a superstition. James I was a fanatical persecutor 
of witches. Shakespeare's Macbeth was a piece of govern- 
ment propaganda, and no doubt the witches in that play made 
it more acceptable as a piece of flattery of the monarch. Even 


Bacon pretended to believe in witchcraft, and made no pro- 
test when a Parliament of which he was a member passed a 
law increasing the severity of the punishment of witches. 
The climax was reached under the Commonwealth, for it 
was especially Puritans who believed in the power of Satan. 
It was partly for this reason that Charles IPs government, 
while not yet venturing to deny the possibility of witchcraft, 
was much less zealous in searching it out than its predecessors 
had been. The last witchcraft trial in England was in 1664, 
when Sir Thomas Browne was a witness against the witch. 
The laws against it gradually fell into abeyance, and were 
repealed in 1736 — though, as late as 1768, John Wesley 
continued to support the old superstition. In Scotland the 
superstition lingered longer: the last conviction was in 1722. 

The victory of humanity and common sense in this matter 
was almost entirely due to the spread of the scientific out- 
look — not to any definite argument, but to the impossibility 
of the whole way of thinking that had been natural before the 
age of rationalism that began in the time of Charles II, partly, 
it must be confessed, as a revolt against a too rigid moral 

Scientific medicine had, at first, to combat superstitions 
similar to those that inspired belief in witchcraft. When 
Vesalius first practiced dissection of corpses, the Church was 
horrified. He was saved from persecution, for a time, by the 
Emperor Charles V, who was a valetudinarian, and believed 
that no other physician could keep him in health. But after the 
Emperor died, Vesalius was accused of cutting people up 
before they were dead. He was ordered, as a penance, to go 
on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; he was shipwrecked, and 
died of exposure. In spite of his work and that of Hervey and 
other great men, medicine continued to be largely supersti- 


tious. Insanity, in particular, was thought to be due to posses- 
sion by evil spirits, and was therefore treated by subjecting 
the insane to cruelties which it was hoped the demons would 
dislike. George III, when mad, was still treated on this 
principle. The ignorance of the general public continued even 
longer. An aunt of mine, when her husband quarreled with 
the War Office, was afraid that the worry would cause him 
to develop typhus. It is hardly till the time of Lister and 
Pasteur that medicine can be said to have become scientific. 
The diminution of human suffering owing to the advances in 
medicine is beyond all calculation. 

Out of the work of the great men of the seventeenth cen- 
tury a new outlook on the world was developed, and it was 
this outlook, not specific arguments, which brought about the 
decay of the belief in portents, witchcraft, demoniacal pos- 
session, and so forth. I think there were three ingredients in 
the scientific outlook of the eighteenth century that were 
specially important: 

(i) Statements of fact should be based on observation, not 
on unsupported authority. 

(2) The inanimate world is a self-acting, self-perpetuating 
system, in which all changes conform to natural laws. 

(3) The earth is not the center of the universe, and 
probably Man is not its purpose (if any); moreover, 
"purpose" is a concept which is scientifically useless. 

These items make up what is called the "mechanistic out- 
look," which clergymen denounce. It led to the cessation of 
persecution and to a generally humane attitude. It is now less 
accepted than it was, and persecution has revived. To those 


who regard its effects as morally pernicious, I commend 
attention to these facts. 

Something must be said about each of the above ingredients 
of the mechanistic outlook. 

(1) Observation versus Authority: To modern educated 
people, it seems obvious that matters of fact are to be ascer- 
tained by observation, not by consulting ancient authorities. 
But this is an entirely modern conception, which hardly 
existed before the seventeenth century. Aristotle maintained 
that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was 
twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this state- 
ment by examining his wives' mouths. He said also that chil- 
dren will be healthier if conceived when the wind is in the 
north. One gathers that the two Mrs. Aristotles both had 
to run out and look at the weathercock every evening before 
going to bed. He states that a man bitten by a mad dog will 
not go mad, but any other animal will (Hist. An. 704a) ; that 
the bite of the shrewmouse is dangerous to horses, especially if 
the mouse is pregnant (ibid., 604^) ; that elephants suffering 
from insomnia can be cured by rubbing their shoulders with 
salt, olive oil, and warm water (ibid., 605a) ; and so on and so 
on. Nevertheless, classical dons, who have never observed 
any animal except the cat and the dog, continue to praise 
Aristotle for his fidelity to observation. 

The conquest of the East by Alexander caused an immense 
influx of superstition into the Hellenistic world. This was 
particularly notable as regards astrology, which almost all 
later pagans believed in. The Church condemned it, not on 
scientific grounds, but because it implied subjection to Fate. 
There is, however, in St. Augustine, a scientific argument 
against astrology quoted from one of the rare pagan skeptics. 


The argument is that twins often have very different careers, 
which they ought not to have if astrology were true. 

At the time of the Renaissance, belief in astrology became 
a mark of the free thinker: it must be true, he thought, be- 
cause the Church condemned it. Free thinkers were not yet 
any more scientific than their opponents in the matter of 
appeal to observable facts. 

Most of us still believe many things that in fact have no 
basis except in the assertions of the ancients. I was always 
told that ostriches eat nails, and, though I wondered how they 
found them in the Bush, it did not occur to me to doubt the 
story. At last I discovered that it comes from Pliny, and has 
no truth whatever. 

Some things are believed because people feel as if they 
must be true, and in such cases an immense weight of evi- 
dence is necessary to dispel the belief. Maternal impressions 
are a case in point. It is supposed that any notable impression 
on the mother during gestation will affect the offspring. This 
notion has scriptural warrant: you will remember how Jacob 
secured speckled kine. If you ask any woman who is not a 
scientist or an associate of scientists, she will overwhelm 
you with incidents in proof of the superstition. Why, there 
was Mrs. So-and-So, who saw a fox caught in a trap, and 
sure enough her child was born with a fox's foot. Did you 
know Mrs. So-and-So? No, but my friend Mrs. Such-and- 
Such did. So, if you are persistent, you ask Mrs. Such-and- 
Such, who says: "Oh no, /didn't know Mrs. So-and-So, but 
Mrs. What's-Her-Name did." You may spend a lifetime in 
the pursuit of Mrs. So-and-So, but you will never catch up 
with her. She is a myth. 

The same situation occurs in regard to the inheritance of 
acquired characters. There is such a strong impulse to be- 


lieve in this that biologists have the greatest difficulty in 
persuading people of the contrary. In Russia they have failed 
to convince Stalin, and have been compelled to give up being 
scientific in this matter. 

When Galileo's telescope revealed Jupiter's moons, the 
orthodox refused to look through it, because they knew there 
could not be such bodies, and therefore the telescope must be 

Respect for observation as opposed to tradition is difficult 
and (one might almost say) contrary to human nature. 
Science insists upon it, and this insistence was the source of 
the most desperate battles between science and authority. 
There are still a great many respects in which the lesson has 
not been learned. Few people can be convinced that an 
obnoxious habit — e.g. exhibitionism — cannot be cured by 
punishment. It is pleasant to punish those who shock us, and 
we do not like to admit that indulgence in this pleasure is not 
always socially desirable. 

(2) The autonomy of the physical world: Perhaps the most 
powerful solvent of the pre-scientific outlook has been the 
first law of motion, which the world owes to Galileo, though 
to some extent he was anticipated by Leonardo da Vinci. 

The first law of motion says that a body which is moving 
will go on moving in the same direction with the same 
velocity until something stops it. Before Galileo it had been 
thought that a lifeless body will not move of itself, and if it is 
in motion it will gradually come to rest. Only living beings, 
it was thought, could move without help of some external 
agency. Aristotle thought that the heavenly bodies were 
pushed by gods. Here on earth, animals can set themselves in 
motion and |can cause motion in dead matter. There are, 
it was conceded, certain kinds of motion which are "natural" 



to dead matter: earth and water naturally move downwards, 
air and fire upwards; but beyond these simple "natural" 
motions everything depends upon impulsion from the souls 
of living beings. 

So long as this view prevailed, physics as an independent 
science was impossible, since the physical world was thought 
to be not causally self-contained. But Galileo and Newton 
between them proved that all the movements of the planets, 
and of dead matter on the earth, proceed according to the 
laws of physics, and once started, will continue indefinitely. 
There is no need of mind in this process. Newton still 
thought that a Creator was necessary to get the process 
going, but that after that He left it to work according to its 
own laws. 

Descartes held that not only dead matter, but the bodies of 
animals also, are wholly governed by the laws of physics. 
Probably only theology restrained him from saying the same 
of human bodies. In the eighteenth century French free 
thinkers took this further step. In their view, the relation of 
mind and matter was the antithesis of what Aristotle and the 
scholastics had supposed. For Aristotle, first causes were 
always mental, as when an engine driver starts a freight train 
moving and the impulsion communicates itself from truck to 
truck. Eighteenth-century materialists, on the contrary, 
considered all causes material, and thought of mental occur- 
rences as inoperative by-products. 

(3) The dethronement of "purpose''': Aristotle maintained 
that causes are of four kinds; modern science admits only one 
of the four. Two of Aristotle's four need not concern us; the 
two that do concern us are the "efficient" and the "final" 
cause. The "efficient" cause is what we should call simply 
"the cause"; the "final" cause is the purpose. In human 
affairs this distinction has validity. Suppose you find a restau- 



rant at the top of a mountain. The "efficient" cause is the 
carrying up of the materials and the arranging of them in the 
pattern of a house. The "final" cause is to satisfy the hunger 
and thirst of tourists. In human affairs, the question "why?" 
is more naturally answered, as a rule, by assigning the final 
cause than by setting out the efficient cause. If you ask "why 
is there a restaurant here?" the natural answer is "because 
many hungry and thirsty people come this way." But the 
answer by final cause is only appropriate where human 
volitions are involved. If you ask "why do many people die of 
cancer?" you will get no clear answer, but the answer you 
want is one assigning the efficient cause. 

This ambiguity in the word "why" led Aristotle to his 
distinction of efficient and final causes. He thought — and 
many people still think— that both kinds are to be found 
everywhere: whatever exists may be explained, on the one 
hand, by the antecedent events that have produced it, and, on 
the other hand, by the purpose that it serves. But although it 
is still open to the philosopher or theologian to hold that 
everything has a "purpose," it has been found that "purpose" 
is not a useful concept when we are in search of scientific 
laws. We are told in the Bible that the moon was made to 
give light by night. But men of science, however pious, do not 
regard this as a scientific explanation of the origin of the 
moon. Or, to revert to the question about cancer, a man of 
science may believe, in his private capacity, that cancer is 
sent as a punishment for our sins, but qua man of science he 
must ignore this point of view. We know of "purpose" in 
human affairs, and we may suppose that there are cosmic 
purposes, but in science it is the past that determines the 
future, not the future the past. "Final" causes, therefore, do 
not occur in the scientific account of the world. 

In this connection Darwin's work was decisive. What 



Galileo and Newton had done for astronomy, Darwin did for 
biology. The adaptations of animals and plants to their 
environments were a favorite theme of pious naturalists in 
the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These adapta- 
tions were explained by the Divine Purpose. It is true that the 
explanation was sometimes a little odd. If rabbits were 
theologians, they might think the exquisite adaptation of 
weasels to the killing of rabbits hardly a matter for thankful- 
ness. And there was a conspiracy of silence about the tape- 
worm. Nevertheless, it was difficult, before Darwin, to 
explain the adaptation of living things to their environment 
otherwise than by means of the Creator's purposes. 

It was not the fact of evolution, but the Darwinian 
mechanism of the struggle for existence and the survival of 
the fittest, that made it possible to explain adaptation without 
bringing in "purpose." Random variation and natural selection 
use only efficient causes. This is why many men who accept 
the general fact of evolution do not accept Darwin's view as 
to how it comes about. Samuel Butler, Bergson, Shaw, and 
Lysenko will not accept the dethronement of purpose — 
though in the case of Lysenko it is not God's purpose, but 
Stalin's, that governs heredity in winter wheat. 

(4) Man's place in the universe: The effect of science upon 
our view of man's place in the universe has been of two 
opposite kinds; it has at once degraded and exalted him. It 
has degraded him from the standpoint of contemplation, and 
exalted him from that of action. The latter effect has gradu- 
ally come to outweigh the former, but both have been im- 
portant. I will begin with the contemplative effect. 

To get this effect with its full impact, you should read 
simultaneously Dante's Divine Comedy and Hubble on the 
Realm of the Nebulae — in each case with active imagination 


and with full receptiveness to the cosmos that they portray. 
In Dante, the earth is the center of the universe; there are 
ten concentric spheres, all revolving about the earth; the 
wicked, after death, are punished at the center of the earth; 
the comparatively virtuous are purged on the Mount of 
Purgatory at the antipodes of Jerusalem; the good, when 
purged, enjoy eternal bliss in one or other of the spheres, 
according to the degree of their merit. The universe is tidy 
and small: Dante visits all the spheres in the course of 
twenty-four hours. Everything is contrived in relation to 
man: to punish sin and reward virtue. There are no myster- 
ies, no abysses, no secrets; the whole thing is like a child's 
doll's house, with people as the dolls. But although the people 
were dolls they were important because they interested the 
Owner of the doll's house. 

The modern universe is a very different sort of place. 
Since the victory of the Copernican system we have known 
that the earth is not the center of the universe. For a time the 
sun replaced it, but then it turned out that the sun is by no 
means a monarch among stars, in fact, is scarcely even middle 
class. There is an incredible amount of empty space in the 
universe. The distance from the sun to the nearest star is 
about 4- 2 light years, or 25 X 10 12 miles. This is in spite of 
the fact that we live in an exceptionally crowded part of the 
universe, namely the Milky Way, which is an assemblage of 
about 300,000 million stars. This assemblage is one of an 
immense number of similar assemblages; about 30 million 
are known, but presumably better telescopes would show 
more. The average distance from one assemblage to the next 
is about 2 million light years. But apparently they still feel 
they haven't elbow room, for they are all hurrying away from 
each other; some are moving away from us at the rate of 


14,000 miles a second or more. The most distant of them so 
far observed are believed to be at a distance from us of about 
500 million light years, so that what we see is what they 
were 500 million years ago. And as to mass: the sun weighs 
about 2 X 10 27 tons, the Milky Way about 160,000 million 
times as much as the sun, and is one of a collection of galaxies 
of which about 30 million are known. It is not easy to main- 
tain a belief in one's own cosmic importance in view of such 
overwhelming statistics. 

So much for the contemplative aspect of man's place in a 
scientific cosmos. I come now to the practical aspect. 

To the practical man, the nebulae are a matter of indiffer- 
ence. He can understand astronomers' thinking about them, 
because they are paid to, but there is no reason why he should 
worry about anything so unimportant. What matters to him 
about the world is what he can make of it. And scientific man 
can make vastly more of the world than unscientific man 

In the pre-scientific world, power was God's. There was 
not much that man could do even in the most favorable cir- 
cumstances, and the circumstances were liable to become un- 
favorable if men incurred the divine displeasure. This 
showed itself in earthquakes, pestilences, famines, and de- 
feats in war. Since such events are frequent, it was obviously 
very easy to incur divine displeasure. Judging by the analogy 
of earthly monarchs, men decided that the thing most dis- 
pleasing to the Deity is a lack of humility. If you wished to 
slip through life without disaster, you must be meek; you 
must be aware of your defenselessness, and constantly ready 
to confess it. But the God before whom you humbled your- 
self was conceived in the likeness of man, so that the universe 
seemed human and warm and cozy, like home if you are the 


youngest of a large family, painful at times, but never alien 
and incomprehensible. 

In the scientific world, all this is different. It is not by 
prayer and humility that you cause things to go as you wish, 
but by acquiring a knowledge of natural laws. The power you 
acquire in this way is much greater and much more reliable 
that that formerly supposed to be acquired by prayer, be- 
cause you never could tell whether your prayer would be 
favorably heard in heaven. The power of prayer, moreover, 
had recognized limits; it would have been impious to ask too 
much. But the power of science has no known limits. We 
were told that faith could remove mountains, but no one 
believed it; we are now told that the atomic bomb can remove 
mountains, and everyone believes it. 

It is true that if we ever did stop to think about the cosmos 
we might find it uncomfortable. The sun may grow cold or 
blow up; the earth may lose its atmosphere and become 
uninhabitable. Life is a brief, small, and transitory phenome- 
non in an obscure corner, not at all the sort of thing that one 
would make a fuss about if one were not personally con- 
cerned. But it is monkish and futile — so scientific man will 
say — to dwell on such cold and unpractical thoughts. Let us 
get on with the job of fertilizing the desert, melting Arctic 
ice, and killing each other with perpetually improving tech- 
nique. Some of our activities will do good, some harm, but all 
alike will show our power. And so, in this godless universe, 
we shall become gods. 

Darwinism has had many effects upon man's outlook on 
life and the world, in addition to the extrusion of purpose of 
which I have already spoken. The absence of any sharp line 
between men and apes is very awkward for theology. When 
did men get souls? Was the Missing Link capable of sin and 


therefore worthy of hell? Did Pithecanthropus Erectus have 
moral responsibility? Was Homo Pekiniensis damned? Did 
Piltdown Man go to heaven? Any answer must be arbitrary. 

But Darwinism — especially when crudely misinterpreted 
— threatened not only theological orthodoxy but also the 
creed of eighteenth-century liberalism. Condorcet was a 
typical liberal philosopher of the eighteenth century; Mal- 
thus developed his theory to refute Condorcet; and Darwin's 
theory was suggested by Malthus's. Eighteenth-century 
liberals had a conception of man as absolute, in its way, as 
that of the theologians. There were the "Rights of Man"; 
all men were equal; if one showed more ability than another, 
that was due entirely to a better education, as James Mill 
told his son to prevent him from becoming conceited. 

We must ask again: Should Pithecanthropus, if still alive, 
enjoy "The Rights of Man"? Would Homo Pekiniensis have 
been the equal of Newton if he could have gone to Cam- 
bridge? Was the Piltdown Man just as intelligent as the 
present inhabitants of that Sussex village? If you answer all 
all these questions in the democratic sense, you can be pushed 
back to the anthropoid apes, and if you stick to your guns, 
you can be driven back ultimately on to the amoeba, which is 
absurd (to quote Euclid) . You must therefore admit that men 
are not all congenitally equal, and that evolution proceeds by 
selecting favorable variations. You must admit that heredity 
has a part in producing a good adult, and that education is not 
the only factor to be considered. If men are to be convention- 
ally equal politically, it must be not because they are really 
equal biologically, but for some more specifically political 
reason. Such reflections have endangered political liberalism, 
though not, to my mind, justly. 

The admission that men are not all equal in congenital 


J 7 

endowment becomes dangerous when some group is singled 
out as superior or inferior. If you say that the rich are abler 
than the poor, or men than women, or white men than black 
men, or Germans than men of any other nation, you proclaim 
a doctrine which has no support in Darwinism, and which is 
almost certain to lead to either slavery or war. But such 
doctrines, however unwarrantable, have been proclaimed in 
the name of Darwinism. So has the ruthless theory that the 
weakest should be left to go to the wall, since this is Nature's 
method of progress. If it is by the struggle for existence that 
the race is improved — so say the devotees of this creed— let 
us welcome wars, the more destructive the better. And so we 
come back to Heraclitus, the first of fascists, who said: 
"Homer was wrong in saying 'would that strife might 
perish from among gods and men.' He did not see that he was 
praying for the destruction of the universe. . . . War is 
common to all, and strife is justice. . . . War is the father 
of all and king of all; and some he has made gods and some 
men, some bond and some free." 

It would be odd if the last effect of science were to revive a 
philosophy dating from 500 b.c. This was to some extent 
true of Nietzsche and of the Nazis, but it is not true of any 
of the groups now powerful in the world. What is true is that 
science has immensely increased the sense of human power. 
But this effect is more closely connected with science as 
technique than with science as philosophy. In this chapter I 
have tried to confine myself to science as a philosophy, 
leaving science as technique for later chapters. After we have 
have considered science as technique I shall return to the 
philosophy of human power that it has seemed to suggest. I 
cannot accept this philosophy, which I believe to be very 
dangerous. But of that I will not speak yet. 


General Effects of 
Scientific Technique 

Science, ever since the time of the Arabs, has had two 
functions:, (i) to enable us to know things, and (2) 
to enable us to do things. The Greeks, with the ex- 
ception of Archimedes, were only interested in the first of 
these. They had much curiosity about the world, but, since 
civilized people lived comfortably on slave labor, they had 
no interest in technique. Interest in the practical uses of 
science came first through superstition and magic. The 
Arabs wished to discover the philosopher's stone, the elixir 
of life, and how to transmute base metals into gold. In pur- 
suing investigations having these purposes, they discovered 
many facts in chemistry, but they did not arrive at any valid 
and important general laws, and their technique remained 

However, in the late Middle Ages two discoveries were 
made which had a profound importance: they were gun- 
powder and the mariner's compass. It is not known who 
made these discoveries— the only thing certain is that it was 
not Roger Bacon. 

The main importance of gunpowder, at first, was that it 



enabled central governments to subdue rebellious barons. 
Magna Carta would have never been won if John had pos- 
sessed artillery. But although in this instance we may side 
with the barons against the king, in general the Middle Ages 
suffered from anarchy, and what was needed was a way of 
establishing order and respect for law. At that time, only 
royal power could achieve this. The barons had depended 
upon their castles, which could not stand against guns. That 
is why the Tudors were more powerful than earlier kings. 
And the same kind of change occurred at the same time in 
France and Spain. The modern power of the State began in 
the late fifteenth century and began as a result of gunpowder. 
From that day to this, the authority of States has increased, 
and throughout it has been mainly improvement in weapons 
of war that has made the increase possible. This development 
was begun by Henry VII, Louis XI, and Ferdinand and 
Isabella. It was artillery that enabled them to succeed. 

The mariner's compass was equally important. It made 
possible the age of discovery. The New World was opened 
to white colonists; the route to the East round Cape of Good 
Hope made possible the conquest of India, and brought 
about important contacts between Europe and China. The 
importance of sea power was enormously increased, and 
through sea power Western Europe came to dominate the 
world. It is only in the present century that this domination 
has come to an end. 

Nothing of equal importance occurred in the way of new 
scientific technique until the age of steam and the industrial 
revolution. The atom bomb has caused many people during 
the last seven years to think that scientific technique may be 
carried too far. But there is nothing new in this. The indus- 
trial revolution caused unspeakable misery both in England 



and in America. I do not think any student of economic his- 
tory can doubt that the average of happiness in England in 
the early nineteenth century was lower than it had been a 
hundred years earlier; and this was due almost entirely to 
scientific technique. 

Let us consider cotton, which was the most important 
example of early industrialization. In the Lancashire cotton 
mills (from which Marx and Engels derived their livelihood) , 
children worked from twelve to sixteen hours a day; they 
often began working at the age of six or seven. Children had 
to be beaten to keep them from falling asleep while at work; 
in spite of this, many failed to keep awake and rolled into the 
machinery, by which they were mutilated or killed. Parents 
had to submit to the infliction of these atrocities upon their 
children, because they themselves were in a desperate plight. 
Handicraftsmen had been thrown out of work by the ma- 
chines; rural laborers were compelled to migrate to the 
towns by the Enclosure Acts, which used Parliament to 
make landowners richer by making peasants destitute; trade 
unions were illegal until 1824; the government employed 
agents provocateurs to try to get revolutionary sentiments out 
of wage-earners, who were then deported or hanged. 

Such was the first effect of machinery in England. 

Meanwhile the effects in the United States had been 
equally disastrous. 

At the time of the War of Independence, and for some 
years after its close, the Southern States were quite willing 
to contemplate the abolition of slavery in the near future. 
Slavery in the North and West was abolished by a unanimous 
vote in 1787, and Jefferson, not without reason, hoped to see 
it abolished in the South. But in the year 1793 Whitney in- 
vented the cotton gin, which enabled a Negro to clean fifty 



pounds of fiber a day instead of only one, as formerly. 
"Laborsaving" devices in England had caused children to 
have to work fifteen hours a day; "laborsaving" devices in 
America inflicted upon slaves a life of toil far more severe 
than what they had to endure before Mr. Whitney's inven- 
tion. The slave trade having been abolished in 1808, the 
immense increase in the cultivation of cotton after that date 
had to be made possible by importing Negroes from the less 
southerly States in which cotton could not be grown. The 
deep South was unhealthy, and the slaves on the cotton 
plantations were cruelly overworked. The less Southern 
slave States thus became breeding-grounds for the profitable 
Southern graveyards. A peculiarly revolting aspect of the 
traffic was that a white man who owned female slaves could 
beget children by them, who were his slaves, and whom, 
when he needed cash, he could sell to the plantations, to 
become (in all likelihood) victims of hookworm, malaria, or 
yellow fever. 

The ultimate outcome was the Civil War, which would 
almost certainly not have occurred if the cotton industry had 
remained unscientific. 

There were also results in other continents. Cotton goods 
could find a market in India and Africa; this was a stimulus 
to British imperialism. Africans had to be taught that nudity 
is wicked; this was done very cheaply by missionaries. In 
addition to cotton goods we exported tuberculosis and 
syphilis, but for them there was no charge. 

I have dwelt upon the case of cotton because I want to 
emphasize that evils due to a new scientific technique are no 
new thing. The evils I have been speaking of ceased in time: 
child labor was abolished in England, slavery was abolished 
in America, imperialism is now at an end in India. The evils 



that persist in Africa have now nothing to do with cotton. 

Steam, which was one of the most important elements in 
the industrial revolution, had its most distinctive sphere of 
operation in transport — steamers and railways. The really 
large-scale effects of steam transportation did not develop 
fully till after the middle of the nineteenth century, when 
they led to the opening of the Middle West of America and 
the use of its grain to feed the industrial populations of 
England and New England. This led to a very general in- 
crease of prosperity, and had more to do than any other 
single cause with Victorian optimism. It made possible a 
very rapid increase in population in every civilized country 
— except France, where the Code Napoleon had prevented it 
by decreeing equal division of a man's property among all his 
children, and where a majority were peasant proprietors 
owning very little land. 

This development was not attended with the evils of early 
industrialism, chiefly, I think, because of the abolition of 
slavery and the growth of democracy. Irish peasants and 
Russian serfs, who were not self-governing, continued to 
suffer. Cotton operatives would have continued to suffer if 
English landowners had been strong enough to defeat Cobden 
and Bright. 

The next important stage in the development of scientific 
technique is connected with electricity and oil and the inter- 
nal-combustion engine. 

Long before the use of electricity as a source of power, it 
was used in the telegraph. This had two important con- 
sequences: first, messages could now travel faster than 
human beings; secondly, in large organizations detailed con- 
trol from a center became much more possible than it had 
formerly been. 



The fact that messages could travel faster than human 
beings was useful, above all, to the police. Before the 
telegraph, a highwayman on a galloping horse could escape 
to a place where his crime had not yet been heard of, and this 
made it very much harder to catch him. Unfortunately, how- 
ever, the men whom the police wish to catch are frequently 
benefactors of mankind. If the telegraph had existed, Polyc- 
rates would have caught Pythagoras, the Athenian govern- 
ment would have caught Anaxagoras, the Pope would have 
caught William of Occam, and Pitt would have caught Tom 
Paine when he fled to France in 1792. A large proportion of 
the best Germans and Russians have suffered under Hitler 
and Stalin; many more would have escaped but for the rapid 
transmission of messages. The increased power of the police 
therefore, is not wholly a gain. 

Increase of central control is an even more important con- 
sequence of the telegraph. In ancient empires satraps or 
proconsuls in distant provinces could rebel, and had time to 
entrench themselves before the central government knew of 
their disaffection. When Constantine proclaimed himself 
Emperor at York and marched on Rome, he was almost under 
the walls of the city before the Roman authorities knew he 
was coming. Perhaps if the telegraph had existed in those 
days the Western world would not now be Christian. In the 
War of 18 1 2, the battle of New Orleans was fought after 
peace had been concluded, but neither army was aware of the 
fact. Before the telegraph, ambassadors had an independence 
which they have now completely lost, because they had to 
be allowed a free hand if swift action was necessary in a 

It was not only in relation to government, but wherever 
organizations covering large areas were concerned, that the 


telegraph effected a transformation. Read, for instance, in 
Hakluyt's Voyages, the accounts of attempts to foster trade 
with Russia that were made by English commercial interests 
in the time of Elizabeth. All that could be done was to choose 
an energetic and tactful emissary, give him letters, goods, 
money, and leave him to make what headway he could. 
Contact with his employers was possible only at long inter- 
vals, and their instructions could never be up to date. 

The effect of the telegraph was to increase the power of 
the central government and diminish the initiative of distant 
subordinates. This applied not only to the State, but to every 
geographically extensive organization. We shall find that a 
great deal of scientific technique has a similar effect. The 
result is that fewer men have executive power, but those 
few have more power than such men had formerly. 

In all these respects, broadcasting has completed what the 
telegraph began. 

Electricity as a source of power is much more recent than 
the telegraph, and has not yet had all the effects of which 
it is capable. As an influence on social organization its 
most notable feature is the importance of power stations, 
which inevitably promote centralization. The philosophers of 
Laputa could reduce a rebellious dependency to submission 
by interposing their floating island between the rebels and 
the sun. Something very analogous can be done by those who 
control power stations, as soon as a community has become 
dependent upon them for lighting and heating and cooking. I 
lived in America in a farmhouse which depended entirely 
upon electricity, and sometimes, in a blizzard, the wires 
would be blown down. The resulting inconvenience was 
almost intolerable. If we had been deliberately cut off for 
being rebels, we should soon have had to give in. 


The importance of oil and the internal-combustion engine 
in our present technique is obvious to everybody. For 
technical reasons, it is advantageous if oil companies are very 
large, since otherwise they cannot afford such things as long 
pipe lines. The importance of oil companies in the politics of 
the last thirty years has been very generally recognized. 
This applies especially to the Middle East and Indonesia. Oil 
is a serious source of friction between the West and the 
U.S.S.R., and tends to generate friendliness towards com- 
munism in some regions that are strategically important to 
the West. 

But what is of most importance in this connection is the 
development of flying. Airplanes have increased immeas- 
urably the power of governments. No rebellion can hope to 
succeed unless it is favored by at least a portion of the air 
force. Not only has air warfare increased the power of 
governments, but it has increased the disproportion between 
great and small Powers. Only great Powers can afford a large 
air force, and no small Power can stand out against a great 
Power which has secure air supremacy. 

This brings me to the most recent technical application of 
physical knowledge — I mean the utilization of atomic en- 
ergy. It is not yet possible to estimate its peaceful uses. 
Perhaps it will become a source of power for certain pur- 
poses, thus carrying further the concentration at present rep- 
resented by power stations. Perhaps it will be used as the 
Soviet Government says it intends to use it — to alter physical 
geography by abolishing mountains and turning deserts into 
lakes. But as far as can be judged at present, atomic energy 
is not likely to be as important in peace as in war. 

War has been, throughout history, the chief source of 
social cohesion; and since science began, it has been the 


strongest incentive to technical progress. Large groups have 
a better chance of victory than small ones, and therefore the 
usual result of war is to make States larger. In any given 
state of technique there is a limit to size. The Roman Empire 
-was stopped by German forests and African deserts; the 
British conquests in India were halted by the Himalayas; 
Napoleon was defeated by the Russian winter. And before 
the telegraph large empires tended to break up because they 
could not be effectively controlled from a center. 

Communications have been hitherto the chief factor limit- 
ing the size of empires. In antiquity the Persians and the 
Romans depended upon roads, but since nothing traveled 
faster than a horse, empires became unmanageable when the 
distance from the capital to the frontier was very great. This 
difficulty was diminished by railways and the telegraph, and 
is on the point of disappearing with the improvement of 
the long-range bomber. There would now be no technical 
difficulty about a single world-wide Empire. Since war is 
likely to become more destructive of human life than it has 
been in recent centuries, unification under a single govern- 
ment is probably necessary unless we are to acquiesce in 
cither a return to barbarism or the extinction of the human 


There is, it must be confessed, a psychological difficulty 
about a single world government. The chief source of social 
cohesion in the past, I repeat, has been war: the passions 
that inspire a feeling of unity are hate and fear. These de- 
pend upon the existence of an enemy, actual or potential. It 
seems to follow that a world government could only be kept 
in being by force, not by the spontaneous loyalty that now 
inspires a nation at war. I will return to this problem at a 
later stage. 



So far, I have been considering only techniques derived 
from physics and chemistry. These have, up to the present, 
been the most important, but biology, physiology, and psy- 
chology are likely in the long run to affect human life quite 
as much as physics and chemistry. 

Take first the question of food and population. At present 
the population of the globe is increasing at the rate of about 
20 millions a year. Most of this increase is in Russia and 
Southeast Asia. The population of Western Europe and 
the United States is nearly stationary. Meanwhile, the food 
supply of the world as a whole threatens to diminish, as a 
result of unwise methods of cultivation and destruction of 
forests. This is an explosive situation. Left to itself, it must 
lead to a food shortage and thence to a world war. Technique, 
however, makes other issues possible. 

Vital statistics in the West are dominated by medicine 
and birth control: the one diminishes the deaths, the other 
the births. The result is that the average age in the West 
increases: there is a smaller percentage of young people and 
a larger percentage of old people. Some people consider that 
this must have unfortunate results, but speaking as an old 
person, I am not sure. 

The danger of a world shortage of food may be averted 
for a time by improvements in the technique of agriculture. 
But, if population continues to increase at the present rate, 
such improvements cannot long suffice. There will then be 
two groups, one poor with an increasing population, the 
other rich with a stationary population. Such a situation can 
hardly fail to lead to world war. If there is not to be an 
endless succession of wars, population will have to become 
stationary throughout the world, and this will probably have 
to be done, in many countries, as a result of governmental 


measures. This will require an extension of scientific tech- 
nique into very intimate matters. There are, however, two 
other possibilities. War may become so destructive that, at 
any rate for a time, there is no danger of overpopulation; or 
the scientific nations may be defeated and anarchy may de- 
stroy scientific technique. 

Biology is likely to affect human life through the study of 
heredity. Without science, men have changed domestic 
animals and food plants enormously in advantageous ways. 
It may be assumed that they will change them much more, 
and much more quickly, by bringing the science of genetics 
to bear. Perhaps, even, it may become possible artificially to 
induce desirable mutations in genes. (Hitherto the only muta- 
tions that can be artificially caused are neutral or harmful.) 
In any case, it is pretty certain that scientific technique will 
very soon effect great improvements in the animals and 
plants that are useful to man. 

When such methods of modifying the congenital character 
of animals and plants have been pursued long enough to make 
their success obvious, it is probable that there will be a 
powerful movement for applying scientific methods to human 
propagation. There would at first be strong religious and 
emotional obstacles to the adoption of such a policy. But sup- 
pose (say) Russia were able to overcome these obstacles 
and to breed a race stronger, more intelligent, and more 
resistant to disease than any race of men that has hitherto 
existed, and suppose the other nations perceived that unless 
they followed suit they would be defeated in war, then either 
the other nations would voluntarily forgo their prejudices, or, 
after defeat, they would be compelled to forgo them. Any 
scientific technique, however beastly, is bound to spread if 
it is useful in war— until such time as men decide that they 


have had enough of war and will henceforth live in peace. As 
that day does not seem to be at hand, scientific breeding of 
human beings must be expected to come about. I shall return 
to this subject in a later chapter. 

Physiology and psychology afford fields for scientific tech- 
nique which still await development. Two great men, Pavlov 
and Freud, have laid the foundation. I do not accept the view 
that they are in any essential conflict, but what structure 
will be built on their foundations is still in doubt. 

I think the subject which will be of most importance polit- 
ically is mass psychology. Mass psychology is, scientifically 
speaking, not a very advanced study, and so far its professors 
have not been in universities: they have been advertisers, 
politicians, and, above all, dictators. This study is immensely 
useful to practical men, whether they wish to become rich 
or to acquire the government. It is, of course, as a science, 
founded upon individual psychology, but hitherto it has 
employed rule-of-thumb methods which were based upon a 
kind of intuitive common sense. Its importance has been 
enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of 
propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called 
"education." Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; 
the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part. 

What is essential in mass psychology is the art of per- 
suasion. If you compare a speech of Hitler's with a speech of 
(say) Edmund Burke, you will see what strides have been 
made in the art since the eighteenth century. What went 
wrong formerly was that people had read in books that man 
is a rational animal, and framed their arguments on this 
hypothesis. We now know that limelight and a brass band 
do more to persuade than can be done by the most elegant 
train of syllogisms. It may be hoped that in time anybody 



will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch 
the patient young and is provided by the State with money 
and equipment. 

This subject will make great strides when it is taken up 
by scientists under a scientific dictatorship. Anaxagoras 
maintained that snow is black, but no one believed him. 
The social psychologists of the future will have a number of 
classes of school children on whom they will try different 
methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is 
black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the 
influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can 
be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. 
Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are 
very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white 
must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I 
anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims 
precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to 
make children believe that snow is black, and how much less 
it would cost to make them believe it is dark gray. 

Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be 
rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will 
not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. 
When the technique has been perfected, every government 
that has been in charge of education for a generation will be 
able to control its subjects securely without the need of 
armies or policemen. As yet there is only one country which 
has succeeded in creating this politician's paradise. 

The social effects of scientific technique have already been 
many and important, and are likely to be even more note- 
worthy in the future. Some of these effects depend upon the 
political and economic character of the country concerned; 
others are inevitable, whatever this character may be. I 



propose in this chapter to consider only the inevitable 


The most obvious and inescapable effect of scientific tech- 
nique is that it makes society more organic, in the sense of 
increasing the interdependence of its various parts. In the 
sphere of production, this has two forms. There is first the 
very intimate interconnection of individuals engaged in a 
common enterprise, e.g. in a single factory; and secondly 
there is the relation, less intimate but still essential, between 
one enterprise and another. Each of these becomes more 
important with every advance in scientific technique. 

A peasant in an unindustrialized country may produce 
almost all his own food by means of very inexpensive tools. 
These tools, some of his clothes, and a few things such as salt 
are all that he needs to buy. His relations with the outer 
world are thus reduced to a minimum. So long as he produces, 
with the help of his wife and children, a little more food than 
the family requires, he can enjoy almost complete independ- 
ence, though at the cost of hardship and poverty. But in a 
time of famine he goes hungry, and probably most of his 
children die. His liberty is so dearly bought that few civilized 
men would change places with him. This was the lot of 
most of the population of civilized countries till the rise of 

Although the peasant's lot is in any case a hard one, it is 
apt to be rendered harder by one or both of two enemies: the 
moneylender and the landowner. In any history of any pe- 
riod, you will find roughly the following gloomy picture: 
"At this time the old hardy yeoman stock had fallen upon 
evil days. Under threat of starvation from bad harvests, many 
of them had borrowed from urban landowners, who had none 
of their traditions, their ancient piety, or their patient cour- 


age. Those who had taken this fatal step became, almost in- 
evitably, the slaves or serfs of members of the new com- 
mercial class. And so the sturdy farmers, who had been the 
backbone of the nation, were submerged by supple men who 
had the skill to amass new wealth by dubious methods." 
You will find substantially this account in the history of 
Attica before Solon, of Latium after the Punic Wars, of 
England in the early nineteenth century, of Southern Cali- 
fornia as depicted in Norris' Octopus, of India under the 
British Raj, and of the reasons which have led Chinese 
peasants to support communism. The process, however 
regrettable, is an unavoidable stage in the integration of 
agriculture into a larger economy. 

By way of contrast with the primitive peasant, consider 
the agrarian interests in modern California or Canada or 
Australia or the Argentine. Everything is produced for ex- 
port, and the prosperity to be brought by exporting depends 
upon such distant matters as war in Europe or Marshall Aid 
or the devaluation of the pound. Everything turns on politics, 
on whether the Farm Bloc is strong in Washington, whether 
there is reason to fear that Argentina may make friends with 
Russia, and so on. There may still be nominally independent 
farmers, but in fact they are in the power of the vast financial 
interests that are concerned in manipulating political issues. 
This interdependence is in no degree lessened — perhaps it is 
even increased — if the countries concerned are socialist, as, 
for example, if the Soviet Government and the British Gov- 
ernment make a deal to exchange food for machinery. All 
this is the effect of scientific technique in agriculture. Mal- 
thus, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, wrote: "In 
the wildness of speculation it has been suggested (of course 
more in jest than in earnest) that Europe should grow its corn 


in America, and devote itself solely to manufactures and 
commerce." It turned out that the speculation was by no 
means "wild." 

So much for agriculture. In industry, the integration 
brought about by scientific technique is much greater and 
more intimate. 

One of the most obvious results of industrialism is that a 
much larger percentage of the population live in towns than 
was formerly the case. The town dweller is a more social 
being than the agriculturist, and is much more influenced by 
discussion. In general, he works in a crowd, and his amuse- 
ments are apt to take him into still larger crowds. The course 
of nature, the alternations of day and night, summer and 
winter, wet or shine, make little difference to him; he has 
no occasion to fear that he will be ruined by frost or drought 
or sudden rain. What matters to him is his human environ- 
ment, and his place in various organizations especially. 

Take a man who works in a factory, and consider how 
many organizations affect his life. There is first of all the 
factory itself, and any larger organization of which it may 
be a part. Then there is the man's trade union and his political 
party. He probably gets house room from a building society 
or public authority. His children go to school. If he reads a 
newspaper or goes to a cinema or looks at a football match, 
these things are provided by powerful organizations. In- 
directly, through his employers, he is dependent upon those 
from whom they buy their raw material and those to whom 
they sell their finished product. Above all, there is the State, 
which taxes him and may at any moment order him to go 
and get killed in war, in return for which it protects him 
against murder and theft so long as there is peace, and allows 
him to buy a fixed modicum of food. 


The capitalist in modern England, as he is never weary of 
telling us, is equally hemmed in. Half, or more than half, of 
his profits go to a government that he detests. His investing 
is severely controlled. He needs permits for everything, and 
has to show cause why he should get them. The government 
has views as to where he should sell. His raw material may 
be very difficult to get, particularly if it comes from a dollar 
area. In all dealings with his employees he has to be careful 
to avoid stirring up a strike. He is haunted by fear of a slump, 
and wonders whether he will be able to keep up the premiums 
on his life insurance. He wakes in the night in a cold sweat, 
having dreamed that war has broken out and his factory and 
his house and his wife and his children have all been wiped 
out. But, although his liberty is destroyed by such a multi- 
plicity of organizations, he is busy trying to make more of 
them: new armed units, Western Union, Atlantic Pact, 
lobbies, and fighting unions of manufacturers. In nostalgic 
moments he may talk about laisserfaire, but in fact he sees no 
hope of safety except in new organizations to fight existing 
ones that he dislikes, for he knows that as an isolated unit 
he would be powerless, and as an isolated State his country 
would be powerless. 

The increase of organization has brought into existence 
new positions of power. Every body has to have executive 
officials, in whom, at any moment, its power is concentrated. 
It is true that officials are usually subject to control, but the 
control may be slow and distant. From the young lady who 
sells stamps in a post office all the way up to the Prime 
Minister, every official is invested, for the time being, with 
some part of the power of the State. You can complain of 
the young lady if her manners are bad, and you can vote 
against the Prime Minister at the next election if you dis- 


approve of his policy. But both the young lady and the Prime 
Minister can have a very considerable run for their money 
before (if ever) your discontent has any effect. This increase 
in the power of officials is a constant source of irritation to 
everybody else. In most countries they are much less polite 
than in England; the police, especially in America for in- 
stance, seem to think you must be a rare exception if you are 
not a criminal. This tyranny of officials is one of the worst 
results of increasing organization, and one against which it 
is of the utmost importance to find safeguards if a scientific 
society is not to be intolerable to all but an insolent aristoc- 
racy of Jacks-in-office. But for the present I am concerned 
with description, not with schemes of reform. 

The power of officials is, usually, distinct from that of 
people who are theoretically in ultimate control. In large 
corporations, although the directors are nominally elected 
by the shareholders, they usually manage, by various de- 
vices, to be in fact self-perpetuating, and to acquire new 
directors, when necessary, by co-option more or less dis- 
guised as election. In British politics, it is a commonplace 
that most Ministers find it impossible to cope with their civil 
servants, who in effect dictate policy except on party ques- 
tions that have been prominently before the public. In many 
countries the armed forces are apt to get out of hand and 
defy the civil authorities. Of the police I have already spoken, 
but concerning them there is more to be said. In countries 
where the communists enter coalition governments, they 
always endeavor to make sure of control of the police. When 
once this is secured, they can manufacture plots, make ar- 
rests, and extort confessions freely. By this means they pass 
from being participants in a coalition to being the whole 
government. The problem of causing the police to obey the 


law is a very difficult one; it is, for example, very far from 
being sslved in America, where confessions are apt to be 
extorted by "third degree" from people who may well be 
innocent. 1 

The increased power of officials is an inevitable result of 
the greater degree of organization that scientific technique 
brings about. It has the drawback that it is apt to be irre- 
sponsible, behind-the-scenes, power, like that of emperors' 
eunuchs and kings' mistresses in former times. To dis- 
cover ways of controlling it is one of the most important po- 
litical problems of our time. Liberals protested, successfully, 
against the power of kings and aristocrats; socialists pro- 
tested against the power of capitalists. But unless the power 
of officials can be kept within bounds, socialism will mean 
little more than the substitution of one set of masters for 
another: all the former power of the capitalist will be in- 
herited by the official. In 1942, when I lived in the country 
in America, I had a part-time gardener, who spent the bulk 
of his working day making munitions. He told me with 
triumph that his union had secured the "closed shop." A 
little while later he told me, without triumph, that the 
union dues had been raised and that the extra money went 
wholly to increase the salary of the secretary of the union. 
Owing to what was practically a war situation between 
labor and capital, any agitation against the secretary could 
be represented as treachery. This little story illustrates the 
helplessness of the public against its own officials, even where 
there is nominally complete democracy. 

One of the drawbacks to the power of officials is that they 
are apt to be quite remote from the things they control. 

1 See Our Lawless Police, by Ernest Jerome Hopkins, N.Y., Viking 


What do the men in the Education Office know about educa- 
tion? Only what they dimly remember of their public school 
and university some twenty or thirty years ago. What does 
the Ministry of Agriculture know about mangel-wurzels? 
Only how they are spelled. What does the Foreign Office 
know about modern China? After I had returned from China 
in 1 92 1 , 1 had some dealings with the permanent officials who 
determined British Far Eastern policy, and found their igno- 
rance unsurpassed except by their conceit. America has in- 
vented the phrase "yes-men" for those who flatter great 
executives. In England we are more troubled by "no-men," 
who make it their business to employ clever ignorance in 
opposing and sabotaging every scheme suggested by those 
who have knowledge and imagination and enterprise. I am 
afraid our "no-men" are a thousand times more harmful 
than the American "yes-men." If we are to recover pros- 
perity, we shall have to find ways of emancipating energy 
and enterprise from the frustrating control of constitution- 
ally timid ignoramuses. 

Owing to increase of organization, the question of the 
limits of individual liberty needs completely different treat- 
ment from that of nineteenth-century writers such as Mill. 
The acts of a single man are as a rule unimportant, but 
the acts of groups are more important than they used to be. 
Take, for example, refusal to work. If one man, on his own 
initiative, chooses to be idle, that may be regarded as his 
own affair; he loses his wages, and there is an end of the 
matter. But if there is a strike in a vital industry, the whole 
community suffers. I am not arguing that the right to strike 
should be abolished; I am only arguing that, if it is to be 
preserved, it must be for reasons concerned with this par- 
ticular matter, and not on general grounds of personal 


liberty. In a highly organized country there are many 
activities which are important to everybody, and without 
which there would be widespread hardship. Matters should 
be so arranged that large groups seldom think it to their 
interest to strike. This can be done by arbitration and con- 
ciliation, or, as under the dictatorship of the proletariat, by 
starvation and police action. But in one way or another it 
must be done if an industrial society is to prosper. 

War is a more extreme case than strikes, but raises very 
similar questions of principle. When two men fight a duel, 
the matter is trivial, but when 200 million people fight 200 
million other people the matter is serious. And with every 
increase of organization war becomes more serious. Until 
the present century, the great majority of the population, 
even in nations engaged in such contests as the Napoleonic 
Wars, were still occupied with peaceful pursuits, and as a 
rule little disturbed in their ordinary habits of life. Now, 
almost everybody, women as well as men, are set to some 
kind of war work. The resulting dislocation makes the peace, 
when it comes, almost worse than the war. Since the end of 
the late war, throughout Central Europe, enormous numbers, 
men, women, and children, have died in circumstances of 
appalling suffering, and many millions of survivors have 
become homeless wanderers, uprooted, without work, with- 
out hope, a burden equally to themselves and to those who 
feed them. This sort of thing is to be expected when defeat 
introduces chaos into highly organized communities. 

The right to make war, like the right to strike, but in a far 
higher degree, is very dangerous in a world governed by 
scientific technique. Neither can be simply abolished, since 
that would open the road to tyranny. But in each case it must 
be recognized that groups cannot, in the name of freedom, 


justly claim the right to inflict great injuries upon others. As 
regards war, the principle of unrestricted national sover- 
eignty, cherished by liberals in the nineteenth century and by 
the Kremlin in the present day, must be abandoned. Means 
must be found of subjecting the relations of nations to the 
rule of law, so that a single nation will no longer be, as at 
present, the judge in its own cause. If this is not done, the 
world will quickly return to barbarism. If that case, scientific 
technique will disappear along with science, and men will be 
able to go on being quarrelsome because their quarrels will no 
longer do much harm. It is, however, just possible that man- 
kind may prefer to survive and prosper rather than to perish 
in misery, and, if so, national liberty will have to be effec- 
tively restrained. 

As we have seen, the question of freedom needs a com- 
pletely fresh examination. There are forms of freedom that 
are desirable, and that are gravely threatened; there are other 
forms of freedom that are undesirable, but that are very 
difficult to curb. There are two dangers, both rapidly in- 
creasing. Within any given organization, the power of 
officials, or of what may be called the "government," tends 
to become excessive, and to subject individuals to various 
forms of tyranny. On the other hand, conflicts between 
different organizations become more and more harmful as 
organizations acquire more power over their members. 
Tyranny within and conflict without are each other's 
counterpart. Both spring from the same source: the lust for 
power. A State which is internally despotic will be externally 
warlike, in both respects because the men who govern the 
State desire the greatest attainable extent and intensity of 
control over the lives of other men. The resultant twofold 
problem, of preserving liberty internally and diminishing it 


externally, is one that the world must solve, and solve soon, 
if scientific societies are to survive. 

Let us consider for a moment the social psychology in- 
volved in this situation. 

Organizations are of two kinds, those which aim at getting 
something done, and those which aim at preventing some- 
thing from being done. The Post Office is an example of the 
first kind; a fire brigade is an example of the second kind. 
Neither of these arouses much controversy, because no one 
objects to letters' being carried, and incendiaries dare not 
avow a desire to see buildings burnt down. But when what 
is to be prevented is something done by human beings, not by 
Nature, the matter is otherwise. The armed forces of one's 
own nation exist — so each nation asserts — to prevent 
aggression by other nations. But the armed forces of other 
nations exist — or so many people believe — to promote aggres- 
sion. If you say anything against the armed forces of your 
own country, you are a traitor, wishing to see your father- 
land ground under the heel of a brutal conqueror. If, on the 
other hand, you defend a potential enemy State for thinking 
armed forces necessary to its safety, you malign your own 
country, whose unalterable devotion to peace only perverse 
malice could lead you to question. I heard all this said about 
Germany by a thoroughly virtuous German lady in 1936, in 
the course of a panegyric on Hitler. 

The same sort of thing applies, though with slightly less 
force, to other combatant organizations. My Pennsylvania 
gardener would not publicly criticize his trade union secre- 
tary for fear of weakening the union in contest with capital- 
ists. It is difficult for a man of ardent political convictions to 
admit either the shortcomings of politicians of his own Party 
or the merits of those of the opposite Party. 



And so it comes about that, whenever an organization has 
a combatant purpose, its members are reluctant to criticize 
their officials, and tend to acquiesce in usurpations and 
arbitrary exercises of power which, but for the war mental- 
ity, they would bitterly resent. It is the war mentality that 
gives officials and governments their opportunity. It is there- 
fore only natural that officials and governments are prone to 
foster war mentality. 

The only escape is to have the greatest possible number of 
disputes settled by legal process, and not by a trial of strength. 
Thus here again the preservation of internal liberty and 
external control go hand in hand, and both equally depend 
upon what is prima facie a restraint upon liberty, namely an 
extension of the domain of law and of the public force 
necessary for its enforcement. 

In what I have been saying so far in this chapter I feel that 
I have not sufficiently emphasized the gains that we derive 
from scientific technique. It is obvious that the average in- 
habitant of the United States at the present day is very much 
richer than the average inhabitant of England in the eight- 
eenth century, and this advance is almost entirely due to 
scientific technique. The gain in the case of England is not so 
great, but that is because we have spent so much on killing 
Germans. But even in England there are enormous material 
advances. In spite of shortages, almost everybody has as 
much to eat as is necessary for health and efficiency. Most 
people have warmth in winter and adequate light after sunset. 
The streets, except in time of war, are not pitch dark at 
night. All children go to school. Everyone can get medical 
attendance. Life and property are much more secure (in 
peacetime) than they were in the eighteenth century. A 
much smaller percentage of the population lives in slums. 

4 2 


Travel is vastly easier, and many more amusements are 
available than in former times. The improvement in health 
would in itself be sufficient to make this age preferable to 
those earlier times for which some people feel nostalgic. On 
the whole, I think, this age is an improvement on all its 
predecessors except for the rich and privileged. 

Our advantages are due entirely, or almost entirely, to the 
fact that a given amount of labor is more productive than it 
was in pre-scientific days. I used to live on a hilltop sur- 
rounded by trees, where I could pick up firewood with the 
greatest ease. But to secure a given amount of fuel in this way 
cost more human labor than to have it brought across half 
England in the form of coal, because the coal was mined and 
brought scientifically, whereas I could employ only primitive 
methods in gathering sticks. In old days, one man produced 
not much more than one man's necessaries; a tiny aristocracy 
lived in luxury, a small middle class lived in moderate com- 
fort, but the great majority of the population had very little 
more than was required in order to keep alive. It is true that 
we do not always spend our surplus of labor wisely. We are 
able to set aside a much larger proportion for war than our 
ancestors could. But almost all the large-scale disadvantages 
of our time arise from failure to extend the domain of law to 
the settlement of disputes which, when left to the arbitra- 
ment of force, have become, through our very efficiency, more 
harmful than in previous centuries. This survival of formerly 
endurable anarchy must be dealt with if our civilization is to 
survive. Where liberty is harmful, it is to law that we must 


Scientific Technique in 
an Oligarchy 

I mean by "oligarchy" any system in which ultimate 
power is confined to a section of the community: the 
rich to the exclusion of the poor, Protestants to the 
exclusion of Catholics, aristocrats to the exclusion of 
plebeians, white men to the exclusion of colored men, males 
to the exclusion of females, or members of one political party 
to the exclusion of the rest. A system may be more oligarchic 
or less so, according to the percentage of the population that 
is excluded; absolute monarchy is the extreme of oligarchy. 
Apart from masculine domination, which was universal 
until the present century, oligarchies in the past were usually 
based upon birth or wealth or race. A new kind of oligarchy 
was introduced by the Puritans during the English Civil War. 
They called it the "Rule of the Saints." It consisted essen- 
tially of confining the possession of arms to the adherents of 
one political creed, who were thus enabled to control the 
government in spite of being a minority without any tradi- 
tional claim to power. This system, although in England it 
ended with the Restoration, was revived in Russia in 191 8, 
in Italy in 1922, and in Germany in 1933. It is now the only 



vital form of oligarchy, and it is therefore the form that I 
shall specially consider. 

We have seen that scientific technique increases the im- 
portance of organizations, and therefore the extent to which 
authority impinges upon the life of the individual. It follows 
that a scientific oligarchy has more power than any oligarchy 
could have in pre-scientific times. There is a tendency, which 
is inevitable unless consciously combated, for organizations 
to coalesce, and so to increase in size, until, ultimately, al- 
most all become merged in the State. A scientific oligarchy, 
accordingly, is bound to become what is called "totalitarian," 
that is to say, all important forms of power will become a 
monopoly of the State. This monolithic system has sufficient 
merits to be attractive to many people, but to my mind its 
demerits are far greater than its merits. For some reason 
which I have failed to understand, many people like the 
system when it is Russian but disliked the very same system 
when it was German. I am compelled to think that this is due 
to the power of labels; these people like whatever is labeled 
"Left" without examining whether the label has any justifica- 

Oligarchies, throughout past history, have always thought 
more of their own advantage than of that of the rest of the 
community. It would be foolish to be morally indignant with 
them on this account; human nature, in the main and in the 
mass, is egoistic, and in most circumstances a fair dose of 
egoism is necessary for survival. It was revolt against the 
selfishness of past political oligarchies that produced the 
Liberal movement in favor of democracy, and it was revolt 
against economic oligarchies that produced socialism. But 
although everybody who was in any degree progressive 
recognized the evils of oligarchy throughout the past history 


of mankind, many progressives were taken in by an argu- 
ment for a new kind of oligarchy. "We, the progressives" — 
so runs the argument — "are the wise and good; we know 
what reforms the world needs; if we have power, we shall 
create a paradise." And so, narcissistically hypnotized by 
contemplation of their own wisdom and goodness, they pro- 
ceeded to create a new tyranny, more drastic than any 
previously known. It is the effect of science in such a system 
that I wish to consider in this chapter. 

In the first place, since the new oligarchs are the adherents 
of a certain creed, and base their claim to exclusive power 
upon the Tightness of this creed, their system depends essen- 
tially upon dogma: whoever questions the governmental 
dogma questions the moral authority of the government, and 
is therefore a rebel. While the oligarchy is still new, there 
are sure to be other creeds, held with equal conviction, which 
would seize the government if they could. Such rival creeds 
must be suppressed by force, since the principle of majority 
rule has been abandoned. It follows that there cannot be 
freedom of the press, freedom of discussion, or freedom of 
book publication. There must be an organ of government 
whose duty it is to pronounce as to what is orthodox, and to 
punish heresy. The history of the Inquisition shows what 
such an organ of government must inevitably become. In the 
normal pursuit of power, it will seek out more and more 
subtle heresies. The Church, as soon as it acquired political 
power, developed incredible refinements of dogma, and 
persecuted what to us appear microscopic deviations from 
the official creed. Exactly the same sort of thing happens in 
the modern States that confine political power to supporters 
of a certain doctrine. 

The completeness of the resulting control over opinion 


depends in various ways upon scientific technique. Where 
all children go to school, and all schools are controlled by the 
government, the authorities can close the minds of the young 
to everything contrary to official orthodoxy. Printing is im- 
possible without paper, and all paper belongs to the State. 
Broadcasting and the cinema are equally public monopolies. 
The only remaining possibility of unauthorized propaganda 
is by secret whispers from one individual to another. But this, 
in turn, is rendered appallingly dangerous by improvements 
in the art of spying. Children at school are taught that it is 
their duty to denounce their parents if they allow themselves 
subversive utterances in the bosom of the family. No one can 
be sure that a man who seems to be his dearest friend will 
not denounce him to the police; the man may himself have 
been in some trouble, and may know that if he is not efficient 
as a spy his wife and children will suffer. All this is not 
imaginary; it is daily and hourly reality. Nor, given oli- 
garchy, is there the slightest reason to expect anything else. 

People still shudder at the enormities of men like Caligula 
and Nero, but their misdeeds fade into insignificance beside 
those of modern tyrants. Except among the upper classes in 
Rome, daily life was much as usual even under the worst 
emperors. Caligula wished his enemies had but a single 
head; how he would have envied Hitler the scientific lethal 
chambers of Auschwitz! Nero did his best to establish a 
spy system which would smell out traitors, but a conspiracy 
defeated him in the end. If he had been defended by the 
N.K.V.D. he might have died in his bed at a ripe old age. 
These are a few of the blessings that science has bestowed on 

Consider next the economic system appropriate to an 
oligarchy. We in England had such a system in the early 


nineteenth century; how abominable it was, you can read in 
the Hammonds' books. It came to an end, chiefly owing to 
the quarrel between landowners and industrialists. Land- 
owners befriended the wage-earners in towns, and indus- 
trialists befriended those in the country. Between the two, 
factory Acts were passed and the Corn Laws were repealed. 
In the end we adopted democracy, which made a modicum of 
economic justice unavoidable. 

In Russia the development has been different. The govern- 
ment fell into the hands of the self-professed champions of the 
proletariat, who, as a result of civil war, were able to estab- 
lish a military dictatorship. Gradually irresponsible power 
produced its usual effect. Those who commanded the army 
and the police saw no occasion for economic justice; soldiers 
were sent to take grain by force from starving peasants, who 
died by millions as a result. Wage-earners, deprived of the 
right to strike, and without the possibility of electing repre- 
sentatives to plead their cause, were kept down to bare 
subsistence level. The percentage difference between the pay 
of army officers and that of privates is vastly greater in 
Russia than in any Western country. Men who hold impor- 
tant positions in business live in luxury; the ordinary em- 
ployee suffers as much as in England one hundred and fifty 
years ago. But even he is still among the more fortunate. 

Underneath the system of so-called "free" labor there is 
another: the system of forced labor and concentration camps. 
The life of the victims of this system is unspeakable. The 
hours are unbearably long, the food only just enough to keep 
the laborers alive for a year or so, the clothing in an arctic 
winter so scanty that it would barely suffice in an English 
summer. Men and women are seized in their homes in the 
middle of the night; there is no trial, and often no charge is 


formulated; they disappear, and inquiries by their families 
remain unanswered; after a year or two in Northeast 
Siberia or on the shores of the White Sea, they die of cold, 
overwork, and undernourishment. But that causes no con- 
cern to the authorities; there are plenty more to come. 

This terrible system is rapidly growing. The number of 
people condemned to forced labor is a matter of conjecture; 
some say that 16 per cent of the adult males in the U.S.S.R. 
are involved, and all competent authorities (except the Soviet 
Government and its friends) are agreed that it is at least 8 
per cent. The proportion of women and children, though 
large, is much less than that of adult males. 

Inevitably, forced labor, because it is economical, is 
favorably viewed by the authorities, and tends, by its com- 
petition, to depress the condition of "free" laborers. In the 
nature of things, unless the system is swept away, it must 
grow until no one is outside it except the army, the police, 
and government officials. 

From the standpoint of the national economy, the system 
has great advantages. It has made possible the construction 
of the Baltic-White Sea canal and the sale of timber in 
exchange for machinery. It has increased the surplus of 
labor available for war production. By the terror that it in- 
spires it has diminished disaffection. But these are small mat- 
ters compared to what — we are told — is to be accomplished 
in the near future. Atomic energy is to be employed (so at 
least it is said) to divert the waters of the River Yenisei, 
which now flow fruitlessly into the Arctic, so as to cause 
them to bestow fertility on a vast desert region in Central 

But if, when this work is completed, Russia is still subject 
to a small despotic aristocracy, there is no reason to expect 


that the masses will be allowed to benefit. It will be found that 
radioactive spray can be used to melt the Polar ice, or that 
a range of mountains in northern Siberia would divert the 
cold north winds, and could be constructed at a cost in 
human misery which would not be thought excessive. And 
whenever other ways of disposing of the surplus fail, there 
is always war. So long as the rulers are comfortable, what 
reason have they to improve the lot of their serfs? 

I think the evils that have grown up in Soviet Russia will 
exist, in a greater or less degree, wherever there is a scientific 
government which is securely established and is not de- 
pendent upon popular support. It is possible nowadays for a 
government to be very much more oppressive than any gov- 
ernment could be before there was scientific technique. Prop- 
aganda makes persuasion easier for the government; public 
ownership of halls and paper makes counterpropaganda 
more difficult; and the effectiveness of modern armaments 
makes popular risings impossible. No revolution can succeed 
in a modern country unless it has the support of at least a 
considerable section of the armed forces. But the armed 
forces can be kept loyal by being given a higher standard of 
life than that of the average worker, and this is made easier 
by every step in the degradation of ordinary labor. Thus the 
very evils of the system help to give it stability. Apart from 
external pressure, there is no reason why such a regime 
should not last for a very long time. 

Scientific societies are as yet in their infancy. It may be 
worth while to spend a few moments in speculating as to 
possible future developments of those that are oligarchies. 

It is to be expected that advances in physiology and 
psychology will give governments much more control over 
individual mentality than they now have even in totalitarian 


countries. Fichte laid it down that education should aim at 
destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, 
they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of 
thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters 
would have wished. But in his day this was an unattainable 
ideal: what he regarded as the best system in existence 
produced Karl Marx. In future such failures are not likely to 
occur where there is dictatorship. Diet, injections, and 
injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce 
the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities 
consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers 
that be will become psychologically impossible. Even if all 
are miserable, all will believe themselves happy, because 
the government will tell them that they are so. 

A totalitarian government with a scientific bent might do 
things that to us would seem horrifying. The Nazis were 
more scientific than the present rulers of Russia, and were 
more inclined towards the sort of atrocities than I have in 
mind. They were said — I do not know with what truth — to 
use prisoners in concentration camps as material for all kinds 
of experiments, some involving death after much pain. If 
they had survived, they would probably have soon taken to 
scientific breeding. Any nation which adopts this practice 
will, within a generation, secure great military advantages. 
The system, one may surmise, will be something like this: 
except possibly in the governing aristocracy, all but 5 per 
cent of males and 30 per cent of females will be sterilized. 
The 30 per cent of females will be expected to spend the 
years from eighteen to forty in reproduction, in order to 
secure adequate cannon fodder. As a rule, artificial insemina- 
tion will be preferred to the natural method. The unsterilized, 


if they desire the pleasures of love, will usually have to seek 
them with sterilized partners. 

Sires will be chosen for various qualities, some for muscle, 
others for brains. All will have to be healthy, and unless they 
are to be the fathers of oligarchs they will have to be of a 
submissive and docile disposition. Children will, as in Plato's 
Republic, be taken from their mothers and reared by pro- 
fessional nurses. Gradually, by selective breeding, the 
congenital differences between rulers and ruled will increase 
until they become almost different species. A revolt of the 
plebs would become as unthinkable as an organized insurrec- 
tion of sheep against the practice of eating mutton. (The 
Aztecs kept a domesticated alien tribe for purposes of 
cannibalism. Their regime was totalitarian.) 

To those accustomed to this system, the family as we 
know it would seem as queer as the tribal and totem organi- 
zation of Australian aborigines seems to us. Freud would 
have to be rewritten, and I incline to think that Adler would 
be found more relevant. The laboring class would have such 
long hours of work and so little to eat that their desires would 
hardly extend beyond sleep and food. The upper class, being 
deprived of the softer pleasures both by the abolition of the 
family and by the supreme duty of devotion to the State, 
would acquire the mentality of ascetics: they would care 
only for power, and in pursuit of it would not shrink from 
cruelty. By the practice of cruelty men would become hard- 
ened, so that worse and worse tortures would be required to 
give the spectators a thrill. 

Such possibilities, on any large scale, may seem a fantastic 
nightmare. But I firmly believe that, if the Nazis had won the 
last war, and if in the end they had acquired world supremacy 


they would, before long, have established just such a system 
as I have been suggesting. They would have used Russians 
and Poles as robots, and when their empire was secure they 
would have used also Negroes and Chinese. Western nations 
would have been converted into becoming collaborationists, 
by the methods practiced in France from 1940 to 1944. 
Thirty years of these methods would have left the West with 
little inclination to rebel. 

To prevent these scientific horrors, democracy is necessary 
but not sufficient. There must be also that kind of respect for 
the individual that inspired the doctrine of the Rights of 
Man. As an absolute theory the doctrine cannot be accepted. 
As Bentham said: "Rights of man, nonsense; imprescriptible 
rights of man, nonsense on stilts." We must admit that there 
are gains to the community so great that for their sake it 
becomes right to inflict an injustice on an individual. This 
may happen, to take an obvious example, if a victorious 
enemy demands hostages as the price of not destroying a 
city. The city authorities (not of course the enemy) cannot 
be blamed, in such circumstances, if they deliver the re- 
quired number of hostages. In general, the "Rights of Man" 
must be subject to the supreme consideration of the general 
welfare. But having admitted this we must go on to assert, 
and to assert emphatically, that there are injuries which it is 
hardly ever in the general interest to inflict on innocent 
individuals. The doctrine is important because the holders of 
power, especially in an oligarchy, will be much too prone, 
on each occasion, to think that this is one of those cases in 
which the doctrine should be ignored. 

Totalitariansim has a theory as well as a practice. As a 
practice, it means that a certain group, having by one means 
or another seized the apparatus of power, especially arma- 


ments and police, proceed to exploit their advantageous 
position to the utmost, by regulating everything in the way 
that gives them the maximum of control over others. But as a 
theory it is something different: it is the doctrine that the 
State, or the nation, or the community is capable of a good 
different from that of individuals, and not consisting of any- 
thing that individuals think or feel. This doctrine was espe- 
cially advocated by Hegel, who glorified the State, and 
thought that a community should be as organic as possible. 
In an organic community, he thought, excellence would 
reside in the whole. An individual is an organism, and we do 
not think that his separate parts have separate goods: if he 
has a pain in his great toe it is he that suffers, not specially 
the great toe. So, in an organic society, good and evil will 
belong to the whole rather than the parts. This is the theoreti- 
cal form of totalitarianism. 

The difficulty about this theory is that it extends illegiti- 
mately the analogy between a social organism and a single 
person as an organism. The government, as opposed to its 
individual members, is not sentient; it does not rejoice at a 
victory or suffer at a defeat. When the body politic is injured, 
whatever pain is to be felt must be felt by its members, not 
by it as a whole. With the body of a single person it is 
otherwise: all pains are felt at the center. If the different 
parts of the body had pains that the central ego did not feel, 
they might have their separate interests, and need a Parlia- 
ment to decide whether the toes should give way to the 
fingers or the fingers to the toes. As this is not the case, a 
single person is an ethical unit. Neither parts of a person nor 
organizations of many persons can occupy the same position 
of ethical importance. The good of a multitude is a sum of 
the goods of the individuals composing it, not a new and 



separate good. In concrete fact, when it is pretended that the 
State has a good different from that of the citizens, what is 
really meant is that the good of the government or of the 
ruling class is more important than that of other people. 
Such a view can have no basis except in arbitrary power. 

More important than these metaphysical speculations is 
the question whether a scientific dictatorship, such as we 
have been considering, can be stable, or is more likely to 
be stable than a democracy. 

Apart from the danger of war, I see no reason why such a 
regime should be unstable. After all, most civilized and semi- 
civilized countries known to history have had a large class 
of slaves or serfs completely subordinate to their owners. 
There js nothing in human nature that makes the persistence 
of such a system impossible. And the whole development of 
scientific technique has made it easier than it used to be to 
maintain a despotic rule of a minority. When the govern- 
ment controls the distribution of food, its power is absolute 
so long as it can count on the police and the armed forces. 
And their loyalty can be secured by giving them some of the 
privileges of the governing class. I do not see how any 
internal movement of revolt can ever bring freedom to the 
oppressed in a modern scientific dictatorship. 

But when it comes to external war the matter is different. 
Given two countries with equal natural resources, one a 
dictatorship and the other allowing individual liberty, the 
one allowing liberty is almost certain to become superior to 
the other in war technique in no very long time. As we have 
seen in Germany and Russia, freedom in scientific research 
is incompatible with dictatorship. Germany might well have 
won the war if Hitler could have endured Jewish physicists. 
Russia will have less grain than if Stalin had not insisted 


upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories. It is highly probable 
that there will soon be, in Russia, a similar governmental 
incursion into the domain of nuclear physics. I do not doubt 
that, if there is no war during the next fifteen years, Russian 
scientific war technique will, at the end of that time, be very 
markedly inferior to that of the West, and that the inferiority 
will be directly traceable to dictatorship. I think, therefore, 
that, so long as powerful democracies exist, democracy will 
in the long run be victorious. And on this basis I allow my- 
self a moderate optimism as to the future. Scientific dictator- 
ships will perish through not being sufficiently scientific. 

We may perhaps go further: the causes which will make 
dictatorships lag behind in science will also generate other 
weaknesses. All new ideas will come to be viewed as heresy, 
so that there will be a lack of adaptability to new circum- 
stances. The governing class will tend to become lazy as soon 
as it feels secure. If, on the other hand, initiative is en- 
couraged in the people near the top, there will be constant 
danger of palace revolutions. One of the troubles in the late 
Roman Empire was that a successful general could, with 
luck, make himself Emperor, so that the reigning Emperor 
always had a motive for putting successful generals to death. 
This sort of trouble can easily arise in a dictatorship, as 
events have already proved. 

For these various reasons, I do not believe that dictator- 
ship is a lasting form of scientific society— unless (but this 
proviso is important) it can become world-wide. 


Democracy and Scientific 

The word "democracy" has become ambiguous. East 
of the Elbe it means "military dictatorship of a 
minority enforced by arbitrary police power." West 
of the Elbe its meaning is less definite, but broadly speaking 
it means "even distribution of ultimate political power among 
all adults except lunatics, criminals, and peers." This is not 
a precise definition, because of the word "ultimate." Suppose 
the British Constitution were to be changed in only one 
respect: that General Elections should occur once in thirty 
years instead of once in five. This would so much diminish 
the dependence of Parliament on public opinion that the 
resulting system could hardly be called a democracy. Many 
socialists would add economic to political power, as what 
demands even distribution in a democracy. But we may 
ignore these verbal questions. The essence of the matter is 
approach to equality of power, and it is obvious that democ- 
racy is a matter of degree. 

When people think of democracy, they generally couple 
with it a considerable measure of liberty for individuals and 
groups. Religious persecution, for instance, would be ex- 




eluded in imagination, although it is entirely compatible with 
democracy as defined a moment ago. I incline to think that 
"liberty," as the word was understood in the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries, is no longer quite the right concept; I 
should prefer to substitute "opportunity for initiative." And 
my reason for suggesting this change is the character of a 
scientific society. 

It cannot be denied that democracy no longer inspires the 
same enthusiasm as it inspired in Rousseau and the men of the 
French Revolution. This is, of course, mainly because it has 
been achieved. Advocates of a reform always overstate their 
case, so that their converts expect the reform to bring the 
millennium. When it fails to do so there is disappointment, 
even if very solid advantages are secured. In France under 
Louis XVI many people thought that all evils proceeded from 
kings and priests, so they cut off the king's head and turned 
priests into hunted fugitives. But still they failed to enjoy 
celestial bliss. So they decided that although kings are bad 
there is no harm in emperors. 

So it has been with democracy. Its sober advocates, nota- 
bly Bentham and his school, maintained that it would do away 
with certain evils, and on the whole they proved right. But 
its enthusiasts, the followers of Rousseau especially, thought 
that it could achieve far more than there was good reason to 
expect. Its sober successes were forgotten, just because the 
evils which it had cured were no longer there to cause 
indignation. Consequently people listened to Carlyle's 
ridicule and Nietzsche's savage invective against it as the 
ethic of slaves. In many minds the cult of the hero replaced 
the cult of the common man. And the cult of the hero, in 
practice, is fascism. 

The cult of the hero is anarchic and retrograde, and does 


not easily fit in with the needs of a scientific society. But 
there is an opposite tendency, embodied in communism, 
which, though also antidemocratic, is in line with the 
technical developments of modern industry, and therefore 
much more worthy of consideration. This is the tendency 
to attach importance neither to heroes nor to common men, 
but to organizations. In this view the individual is nothing 
apart from the social bodies of which he is a member. Each 
such body — so it is said — represents some social force, and 
it is only as part of such a force that an individual is of 

We have thus three points of view, leading to three 
different political philosophies. You may view an individual, 
(a) as a common man, (b) as a hero, (c) as a cog in the 
machine. The first view leads you to old-fashioned democ- 
racy, the second to fascism, and the third to communism. I 
think that democracy, if it is to recover the power of in- 
spiring vigorous action, needs to take account of what is 
valid in the other two way of regarding individuals. 

Everybody exemplifies all three points of view in different 
situations. Even if you are the greatest of living poets, you 
are a common man where your ration book is concerned, or 
when you go to the polling booth to vote. However hum- 
drum your daily life may be, there is a good chance that you 
will now and again have an opportunity for heroism: you 
may save someone from drowning, or (more likely) you may 
die nobly in battle. You are a cog in the machine if you 
work in an organized group, e.g. the army or the mining 
industry. What science has done is to increase the propor- 
tion of your life in which you are a cog, to the extent of 
endangering what is due to you as a hero or as a common 



man. The business of a modern advocate of democracy is to 
develop a political philosophy which avoids this danger. 

In a good social system, every man will be at once a hero, 
a common man, and a cog, to the greatest possible extent, 
though if he is any one of these in an exceptional degree his 
other two roles may be diminished. Qua hero, a man should 
have the opportunity of initiative; qua common man, he 
should have security; qua cog, he should be useful. A nation 
cannot achieve great excellence by any one of these alone. 
In Poland before the partition, all were heroes (at least all 
nobles) ; the Middle West is the home of the common man; 
and in Russia everyone outside the Politburo is a cog. No 
one of these three is quite satisfactory. 

The cog theory, though mechanically feasible, is humanly 
the most devastating of the three. A cog, we said, should be 
useful. Yes, but useful for what? You cannot say useful for 
promoting initiative, since the cog mentality is antithetic to 
the hero mentality. If you say useful for the happiness of the 
common man, you subordinate the machine to its effect 
in human feelings, which is to abandon the cog theory. 
You can only justify the cog theory by worship of the 
machine. You must make the machine an end in itself, 
not a means to what it produces. Human beings then become 
like slaves of the lamp in The Arabian Nights. It no longer 
matters what the machine produces, though on the whole 
bombs will be preferred to food because they require more 
elaborate mechanisms for their production. In time men will 
come to pray to the machine: "Almighty and most merciful 
Machine, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like 
lost screws; we have put in those nuts which we ought not 
to have put in, and we have left out those nuts which we 


ought to have put in, and there is no cogginess in us" — and so 

This really won't do. The idolatry of the machine is an 
abomination. The Machine as an object of adoration is the 
modern form of Satan, and its worship is the modern diabo- 

Not that I wish, like the Erewhonians, to prohibit ma- 
chines. The Egyptians worshiped bulls, which we think was 
a mistake, but we do not on that account prohibit bulls. It is 
only when the Machine takes the place of God that I object 
to it. Whatever else may be mechanical, values are not, and 
this is something which no political philosopher must for- 

But it is time to have done with these pleasant fancies and 
return to the subject of democracy. 

The main point is this: Scientific technique, by making 
society more organic, increases the extent to which an 
individual is a cog; if this is not to be an evil, ways must be 
found of preventing him from being a mere cog. This means 
that initiative must be preserved in spite of organization. 
But most initiative will be what may be called in a large 
sense "political," that is to say, it will consist of advice as to 
what some organization should do. And if there is to be 
opportunity for this sort of initiative, organizations must, 
as far as possible, be governed democratically. Not only so, 
but the federal principle must be carried so far that every 
energetic person can hope to influence the government of 
some social group of which he is a member. 

Democracy, at present, defeats its object by the vastness 
of the constituencies involved. Suppose you are an American, 
interested in a Presidential election. If you are a Senator or 
a Congressman, you can have a considerable influence, but 


the odds are about 100,000 to 1 that you are neither. If you 
are a ward politician you can do something. But if you are 
an ordinary citizen you can only vote. And I do not think 
there has ever been a Presidential election where one man's 
abstention would have altered the result. And so you feel as 
powerless as if you lived under a dictatorship. You are, of 
course, committing the classical fallacy of the heap, but 
most people's minds work that way. 

In England it is not quite so bad, because there is no 
election in which the whole nation is one constituency. In 
1945 I worked for a candidate who got a majority of forty- 
six, so if my work converted twenty-four people the result 
would have been different if I had been idle. If the Labour 
Party had got a majority of one in Parliament I might have 
come to think myself quite important; but as it was I had 
to content myself with the pleasure of being on the winning 

Things would be better if people took an interest in local 
politics, but unfortunately few do. Nor is this surprising, 
since most of the important issues are decided nationally, 
not locally. It is to be regretted that there is so little civic 
pride nowadays. In the Middle Ages each city wished to be 
pre-eminent in the splendor of its cathedral, and we still 
profit by the result. In our own time, Stockholm had the same 
feeling about its Town Hall, which is splendid. But English 
large towns seem to have no such feeling. 

In industry there is room for a great deal of devolution. 
For many years the Labour Party has advocated nationaliza- 
tion of railways, and most railway employees have supported 
the Party in this. But now a good many of them are finding 
that the State is, after all, not so very different from a 
private company. It is equally remote, and under a Con- 


servative government it will be equally likely to be on bad 
terms with the unions. In fact nationalization needs to be 
supplemented by a measure of limited self-government for 
the railways, the railway government being elected demo- 
cratically by the employees. 

In all federal systems, the general principle should be to 
divide the affairs of each component body into home affairs 
and foreign affairs, the component bodies having free control 
of their home affairs, and the federal body having authority 
in matters which are foreign affairs for the components 
but not for it. It, in turn, should be a unit in a wider federa- 
tion, and so on until we reach the world government, which, 
for the present, would have no foreign affairs. Of course it 
is not always easy to decide whether a matter is purely local 
or not, but this will be a question for the law courts, as in 
America and Australia. 

This principle should be applied not only geographically, 
but also vocationally. In old days, when travel was slow and 
roads often impassable, geographical location was more 
important than it is now. Now, especially in a small country 
like ours, there would be no difficulty in allocating certain 
governmental functions to bodies like the trade unions, 
which classify people by their occupation, not by their 
habitation. The foreign relations of an industry are access to 
raw material, quantity and price of finished product. These 
it should not control. But everything else it should be free to 
decide for itself. 

In such a system, there would be many more opportunities 
of individual initiative than there are at present, although 
central control would remain wherever it is essential. Of 
course the system would be difficult to work in time of war, 
and so long as there is imminent risk of war it is impossible to 



escape from the authority of the State except to a very 
limited degree. It is mainly war that has caused the excessive 
power of modern States, and until the fear of war is removed 
it is inevitable that everything should be subordinated to 
short-term efficiency. But I have thought it worth while to 
think for a moment of the world as it may be when a world 
government has ended the present nightmare dread of war. 

In addition to the kind of federalism that I have been 
speaking of, there is, for certain purposes, a somewhat differ- 
ent method which can be advantageous. It is that of bodies 
which, though really part of the State, have a very consider- 
able degree of independence. Such are, for example, the 
universities, the Royal Society, the B.B.C., and the Port of 
of London Authority. The smooth working of such bodies 
depends upon a certain degree of homogeneity in the com- 
munity. If the Royal Society or the B.B.C. came to contain a 
majority of communists, Parliament would no doubt curtail 
its liberties. But in the meantime both have a good deal of 
autonomy, which is highly desirable. Our older universities, 
being governed by men with respect for learning, are, I am 
happy to observe, much more liberal towards academically 
distinguished communists than the universities of America, 
in which men of learning have no voice in the government. 

Art and literature are peculiar in the modern world in 
that those who practice them retain the individual liberty of 
former times, and are practically untouched by scientific 
technique unless they are drawn into the cinema. This is 
more true of authors than of artists, because, as private 
fortunes dwindle, artists become increasingly dependent upon 
the patronage of public bodies. But if an artist is prepared to 
starve, nothing can prevent him from doing his best. How- 
ever, the position of both artists and authors is precarious. 


In Russia they are already mere licensed sycophants. Else- 
where, before long, with conscription of labor, no one will 
be allowed to practice literature or painting unless he can 
get twelve magistrates or ministers of religion to testify to 
his competence. I am not quite sure that the aesthetic taste 
of these worthy men will always be impeccable. 

Liberty, in the old-fashioned sense, is much more impor- 
tant in regard to mental than to material goods. The reason is 
simple: that in regard to mental goods what one man pos- 
sesses is not taken from other men, whereas with material 
goods it is otherwise. When a limited supply of (say) food 
has to be shared out, the obvious principle is justice. This 
does not mean exact equality: a navvy needs more food than 
a bedridden old man. The principle must be, in the words 
of the old slogan, "to each according to his needs." There is 
here, however, a difficulty, much emphasized by opponents 
of socialism; it is that of incentive. Under capitalism, the in- 
centive is fear of starvation; under communism, it is the fear 
of drastic police punishment. Neither is quite what the 
democratic socialist wants. But I do not think industry can 
work efficiently through the mere motive of public spirit; 
something more personal is necessary in normal times. My 
own belief is that a collective profit motive can be, and should 
be, combined with socialism. Take, say, coal mining. The 
State should decide, at the beginning of each year, what 
prices it is prepared to pay for coal of various qualities. 
Methods of mining should be left to the industry. Every 
technical improvement would then result in more coal or 
less work for miners. The profit motive, in a new form, 
would survive, but without the old evils. By devolution, the 
motive could be made to operate on each mine. 

In regard to mental goods, neither justice nor incentive is 



important; what is important is opportunity. Opportunity, of 
course, includes remaining alive, and to this extent involves 
material goods. But most men of great creative power are 
not interested in becoming rich, so that a modest subsistence 
would suffice. And if these men are put to death, like Socra- 
tes, when their work is done, no harm is done to anyone. But 
great harm is done if, during their lifetime, their work is 
hampered by authority, even if the hampering takes the 
form of heaping honors upon them as the price of conformity. 
No society can be progressive without a leaven of rebels, 
and modern technique makes it more and more difficult to be 
a rebel. 

The difficulties of the problem are very great. As regards 
science, I do not think that any complete solution is possible. 
You cannot work at nuclear physics in America unless you 
are politically orthodox; you cannot work at any science in 
Russia unless you are orthodox, not only in politics, but also 
in science, and orthodoxy in science means accepting all 
Stalin's uneducated prejudices. The difficulty arises from the 
vast expense of scientific apparatus. There is, or was, a law 
that when a man is sued for debt he must not be deprived of 
the tools of his trade, but when his tools cost many millions 
of pounds the situation is very different from that of the 
eighteenth-century handicraftsman. 

I do not think that, in the present state of the world, any 
government can be blamed for demanding political orthodoxy 
of nuclear physicists. If Guy Fawkes had demanded gun- 
powder on the ground that it was one of the tools of his 
trade, I think James I's government would have viewed the 
request somewhat coldly, and this applies with even more 
force to the nuclear physicists of our time: governments 
must demand some assurance as to -who they are going to 



blow up. But there is no justification whatever for demanding 
scientific orthodoxy. Fortunately, in science it is fairly easy 
to estimate a man's ability. It is therefore possible to act on 
the principle that a scientist should be given opportunity in 
proportion to his ability, not to his scientific orthodoxy. I 
think that on the whole, in Western Europe, this principle 
is fairly well observed. But its observance is precarious, and 
mightly easily cease in a time of acute scientific controversy. 
In art and literature the problem is different. On the one 
hand, freedom is more possible, because the authorities are 
not asked to provide expensive apparatus. But on the other 
hand merit is much more difficult to estimate. The older gen- 
eration of artists and writers is almost invariably mistaken as 
to the younger generation: the pundits almost always condemn 
new men who are subsequently judged to have outstanding 
merit. For this reason such bodies as the French Academy 
or the Royal Academy are useless, if not harmful. There is 
no conceivable method by which the community can recog- 
nize the artist until he is old and most of his work is done. 
The community can only give opportunity and toleration. It 
can hardly be expected that the community should license 
every man who says he means to paint, and should support 
him for his daubs however execrable they may be. I think 
the only solution is that the artist should support himself by 
work other than his art, until such time as he gets a knight- 
hood. He should seek ill-paid half-time employment, live 
austerely, and do his creative work in his spare time. Some- 
times less arduous solutions are possible: a dramatist can be 
an actor, a composer can be a performer. But in any case the 
artist or writer must, while he is young, keep his creative 
work outside the economic machine and make his living by 
work of which the value is obvious to the authorities. For 


if his creative work affords his official means of livelihood, 
it will be hampered and impaired by the ignorant censorship 
of the authorities. The most that can be hoped — and this is 
much — is that a man who does good work will not be pun- 
ished for it. 

The construction of Utopias used to be despised as the 
foolish refuge of those who could not face the real world. 
But in our time social change has been so rapid, and so 
largely inspired by Utopian aspirations, that it is more 
necessary than it used to be to consider the wisdom or un- 
wisdom of dominant aspirations. Marx, though he made fun 
of Utopians, was himself one of them, and so was his disciple 
Lenin. Lenin had the almost unique privilege of actually 
constructing his Utopia in a great and powerful State; he 
was the nearest approach known to history to Plato's 
philosopher king. The fact that the result is unsatisfactory is, 
I think, mainly due to intellectual errors on the part of 
Marx and Lenin — errors which remain intellectual although 
they have an emotional source in the dictatorial character of 
the two men. Western democrats are constantly accused, 
even by many of their friends, of having no inspiring and 
coherent doctrine with which to confront communism. I 
think this challenge can be met. I will therefore repeat, in a 
less argumentative form, the conception of a good society 
by which I believe that democratic socialism should be 

In a good society, a man should (i) be useful, (2) be as 
far as possible secure from undeserved misfortune, (3) have 
opportunity for initiative in all ways not positively harmful 
to others. No one of these three is absolute. A lunatic cannot 
be useful, but should not on that account be punished. During 
a war, undeserved misfortunes are unavoidable. In a time of 


great public disaster, even the greatest artist may have to 
give up his own work in order to combat fire or flood or 
pestilence. Our three requisites are general directives, not 
absolute imperatives. 

(i) When I say that a man should be "useful," I am think- 
ing of him in relation to the community, and am accepting 
the community's judgment as to what is useful. If a man is a 
great poet or a Seventh-Day Adventist, he personally may 
think that the most useful thing he can do is to write verses 
or preach that the Sabbath should be observed on Saturday. 
But if the community does not agree with him, he should 
find some way of earning his living which is generally ac- 
knowledged to be useful, and confine to his leisure hours his 
activities as a poet or a missionary. 

(2) Security has been one of the chief aims of British 
social legislation since the great days of Lloyd George. Un- 
employment, illness, and old age do not deserve punishment, 
and should not be allowed to bring avoidable suffering. The 
community has the right to exact work from those capable 
of work, but it has also the duty to support all those willing 
to work, whether in fact they are able to work or not. 
Security has also legal aspects: a man must not be subject 
to arbitrary arrest or to confiscation of his property without 
judicial or legislative sanction. 

(3) Opportunity for initiative is a more difficult matter, 
but not less important. Usefulness and security form the 
basis of the theoretical case for socialism, but without 
opportunity for initiative a socialist community might have 
little merit. Read Plato's Republic and More's Utopia — 
both socialist works — and imagine yourself living in the 
community portrayed by either. You will see that boredom 
would drive you to suicide or rebellion. A man who has 


never had security may think that it would satisfy him, but 
in fact — to borrow an analogy from mountaineering — it is 
only a base camp from which dangerous ascents can begin. 
The impulse to danger and adventure is deeply ingrained in 
human nature, and no society which ignores it can long be 

A democratic scientific society, by exacting service and 
conferring security, forbids or prevents much personal 
initiative which is possible in a less well-regulated world. 
Eighty years ago, Vanderbilt and Jay Gould each claimed 
ownership of the Erie Railroad; each had a printing press to 
prove how many shares he owned; each had a posse of 
corrupt judges ready to give any legal decision demanded 
of them; each had physical control of a portion of the rolling 
stock. On a given day, one started a train at one end of the 
line, the other at the other; the trains met in the middle; 
each was full of hired bravos, and the two gangs had a six- 
hour battle. Obviously Vanderbilt and Jay Gould enjoyed 
themselves hugely; so did the bravos; so did the whole 
American nation except those who wanted to use the Erie 
Railroad. So did I when I read about the affair. Neverthe- 
less, the affair was thought to be a scandal. Nowadays the 
impulse to such delights has to seek satisfaction in the con- 
struction of hydrogen bombs, which is at once more harmful 
and less emotionally satisfying. If the world is ever to have 
peace, it must find ways of combining peace with the possibil- 
ity of adventures that are not destructive. 

The solution lies in providing opportunities for contests 
that are not conducted by violent means. This is one of the 
great merits of democracy. If you hate socialism or capi- 
talism, you are not reduced to assassinating Mr. Attlee or 
Mr. Churchill; you can make election speeches, or, if that 



doesn't satisfy you, get yourself elected to Parliament. So 
long as the old Liberal freedoms survive, you can engage in 
propaganda for whatever excites you. Such activities suffice 
to satisfy most men's combative instincts. Creative im- 
pulses which are not combative, such as those of the artist 
and the writer, cannot be satisfied in this way, and for them 
the only solution, in a socialist State, is liberty to employ 
your leisure as you like. This is the only solution, because 
such activities are sometimes extremely valuable, but the 
community has no way of judging, in a given case, whether 
the artist's or writer's work is worthless or shows immortal 
genius. Such activities, therefore, must not be systematized 
or controlled. Some part of life — perhaps the most important 
part— must be left to the spontaneous action of individual 
impulse, for where all is system there will be mental and 
spiritual death. 


Science and War 

The connection of science with war has grown gradu- 
ally more and more intimate. It began with Archi- 
medes, who helped his cousin the tyrant of Syracuse 
to defend that city against the Romans in 212 B.C. In Plu- 
tarch's Life of Marcellus there is a highly romantic and 
obviously largely mythical account of the engines of war 
that Archimedes invented. I quote North. 

(Before war had begun) 

The king prayed him to make him some engines, both to assault 
and defend, in all manner of sieges and assaults. So Archimedes 
made him many engines, but King Hieron never occupied any of 
them, because he reigned the most part of his time in peace without 
any wars. But this provision and munition of engines served the 
Syracusans marvellously at that time (when Syracuse was be- 
sieged). When Archimedes fell to handle his engines, and to set 
them at liberty, there flew in the air infinite kinds of shot, and 
marvellous great stones, with an incredible great noise and force 
on the sudden, upon the footmen that came to assault the city by 
land, bearing down and tearing in pieces all those which came 
against them, or in what place soever they lighted, no earthly 
body being able to resist the violence of so heavy a weight : so that 
all their ranks were marvellously disordered. And as for the galleys 
that gave assault by sea, some were sunk with long pieces of 



timber, which were suddenly blown over the walls with force of 
their engines into their galleys, and so sunk them by their over- 
great weight. Other being hoist up by their prows with hands of 
iron, and hooks made like cranes' bills, plunged their poops into 
the sea. Other being taken up with certain engines fastened within, 
one contrary to another, made them turn in the air like a whirligig, 
and so cast them upon the rocks by the tour walls, and splitted 
them all to fitters, to the great spoil and murder of the persons that 
were within them. And sometimes the ships and galleys were lift 
clean out of the water, that it was a fearful thing to see them hang 
and turn in the air as they did : until that, casting their men within 
them over the hatches, some here, some there, by this terrible 
turning, they came in the end to be empty, and to break against the 
walls, or else to fall into the sea again, when their engine left their 
hold. . 

In spite of all this scientific technique, however, the 
Romans were victorious, and Archimedes was killed by a 
plain infantry soldier. One can imagine the exultation of 
Roman Blimps at the proof that once more these newfangled 
devices of long-haired scientists had been defeated by the 
old tried traditional forces by means of which the Empire's 
greatness had been built up. 

Nevertheless science continued to play a decisive part in 
war. Greek fire kept the Byzantine Empire in existence for 
centuries. Artillery destroyed the feudal system, and by 
making English archery obsolete created the myth of Joan of 
Arc. The greatest men of the Renaissance commended them- 
selves to the powerful by their skill in scientific warfare. 
When Leonardo wanted to get a job from the Duke of 
Milan, he wrote the Duke a long letter about his improve- 
ments in the art of fortification, and in the last sentence 
mentioned briefly that he could also paint a bit. He got the 


job, though I doubt if the Duke read as far as the last 
sentence. When Galileo wanted employment under the 
Grand Duke of Tuscany, it was on his calculations of the 
trajectories of cannon-balls that he relied. In the French 
Revolution, such men of science as were not guillotined 
owed their immunity to their contributions to the war ef- 
fort. I know of only one instance on the other side. During 
the Crimean War Faraday was consulted as to the use of 
poison gas. He replied that it was entirely feasible, but was 
to be condemned on grounds of humanity. In those inefficient 
days his opinion prevailed. But that was long ago. 

The Crimean War could still be celebrated by Kinglake 
in the romantic language of the ages of chivalry, but modern 
war is a very different matter. No doubt there are still 
gallant officers and brave men who die nobly in the ancient 
manner, but it is not they who are important. One nuclear 
physicist is worth more than many divisions of infantry. And 
apart from applications of the latest science, what secures 
success in war is not heroic armies but heavy industry. 
Consider the success of the United States after Pearl Har- 
bor. No nation has ever shown more heroism than was shown 
by the Japanese, but they were defeated by American in- 
dustrial productivity. It is to steel and oil and uranium, not 
to martial ardor, that modern nations must look for victory 
in war. 

Modern warfare, so far, has not been more destructive of 
life than the warfare of less scientific ages, for the increased 
deadlines s of weapons has been offset by the improvement in 
medicine and hygiene. Until recent times, pestilence almost 
invariably proved far more fatal than enemy action. When 
Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem, 185,000 of his army died in 
one night, "and when they arose early in the morning, behold 


they were all dead corpses" (II Kings xix. 35). The plague 
in Athens did much to decide the Peloponnesian War. The 
many wars between Syracuse and Carthage were usually 
ended by pestilence. Barbarossa, after he had completely 
defeated the Lombard League, lost almost his whole army 
by disease, and had to fly secretly over the Alps. The mor- 
tality rate in such campaigns was far greater than in the two 
great wars of our own century. I do not say that future wars 
will have as low a casualty rate as the last two; that is a 
matter to which I will come shortly. I say only, what many 
people do not realize, that up to the present science has not 
made war more destructive. 

There are, however, other respects in which the evils of 
war have much increased. France was at war, almost con- 
tinuously, from 1792 to 181 5, and in the end suffered com- 
plete defeat, but the population of France did not, after 1815, 
suffer anything comparable to what has been suffered 
throughout Central Europe since 1945. A modern nation at 
war is more organized, more disciplined, and more com- 
pletely concentrated on the effort to secure victory, than was 
possible in pre-industrial times; the consequence is that de- 
feat is more serious, more disorganizing, more demoralizing 
to the general population, than it was in the days of Napo- 

But even in this respect it is not possible to make a general 
rule. Some wars in the past were quite as disorganizing and 
as destructive of the civilization of devastated areas as was 
the Second World War. North Africa has never regained 
the level of prosperity that it enjoyed under the Romans. 
Persia never recovered from the Mongols nor Syria from the 
Turks. There have always been two kinds of wars, those in 
which the vanquished incurred disaster, and those in which 



they only incurred discomfort. We seem, unfortunately, to 
be entering upon an era in which wars are of the former sort. 

The atom bomb, and still more the hydrogen bomb, have 
caused new fears, involving new doubts as to the effects of 
science on human life. Some eminent authorities, including 
Einstein, have pointed out that there is a danger of the extinc- 
tion of all life on this planet. I do not myself think that this 
will happen in the next war, but I think it may well happen 
in the next but one, if that is allowed to occur. If this expec- 
tation is correct, we have to choose, within the next fifty 
years or so, between two alternatives. Either we must allow 
the human race to exterminate itself, or we must forgo 
certain liberties which are very dear to us, more especially 
the liberty to kill foreigners whenever we feel so disposed. 
I think it probable that mankind will choose its own exter- 
mination as the preferable alternative. The choice will be 
made, of course, by persuading ourselves that it is not being 
made, since (so militarists on both sides will say) the victory 
of the right is certain without risk of universal disaster. We 
are perhaps living in the last age of man, and, if so, it is to 
science that he will owe his extinction. 

If, however, the human race decides to let itself go on 
living, it will have to make very drastic changes in its ways of 
thinking, feeling, and behaving. We must learn not to say: 
"Never! Better death than dishonor." We, must learn to 
submit to law, even when imposed by aliens whom we hate 
and despise, and whom we believe to be blind to all consider- 
ations of righteousness. Consider some concrete examples. 
Jews and Arabs will have to agree to submit to arbitration; 
if the award goes against the Jews, the President of the 
United States will have to insure the victory of the party to 
which he is opposed, since, if he supports the international 


authority, he will lose the Jewish vote in New York State. 
On the other hand, if the award goes in favor of the Jews, the 
Mohammedan world will be indignant, and will be supported 
by all other malcontents. Or, to take another instance, Eire 
will demand the right to oppress the Protestants of Ulster, 
and on this issue the United States will support Eire while 
Britain will support Ulster. Could an international authority 
survive such a dissension? Again: India and Pakistan cannot 
agree about Kashmir, therefore one of them must support 
Russia and the other the United States. It will be obvious to 
anyone who is an interested party in one of these disputes 
that the issue is far more important than the continuance of 
life on our planet. The hope that the human race will allow 
itself to survive is therefore somewhat slender. 

But if human life is to continue in spite of science, mankind 
will have to learn a discipline of the passions which, in the 
past, has not been necessary. Men will have to submit to the 
law, even when they think the law unjust and iniquitous. 
Nations which are persuaded that they are only demanding 
the barest justice will have to acquiesce when this demand is 
denied them by the neutral authority. I do not say that this is 
easy; I do not prophesy that it will happen; I say only that if 
it does not happen the human race will perish, and will 
perish as a result of science. 

A clear choice must be made within fifty years, the choice 
between Reason and Death. And by "Reason" I mean will- 
ingness to submit to law as declared by an international 
authority. I fear that mankind may choose Death. I hope I am 


Science and Values 

The philosophy which has seemed appropriate to 
science has varied from time to time. To Newton and 
most of his English contemporaries science seemed to 
afford proof of the existence of God as the Almighty Law- 
giver: He had decreed the law of gravitation and whatever 
other natural laws had been discovered by Englishmen. In 
spite of Copernicus, man was still the moral center of the 
universe, and God's purposes were mainly concerned with 
the human race. The more radical among the French 
philosophes, being politically in conflict with the Church, 
took a different view. They did not admit that laws imply a 
lawgiver; on the other hand, they thought that physical 
laws could explain human behavior. This led them to 
materialism and denial of free will. In their view, the universe 
has no purpose and man is an insignificant episode. The vast- 
ness of the universe impressed them and inspired in them a 
new form of humility to replace that which atheism had 
made obsolete. This point of view is well expressed in a little 
poem by Leopardi and expresses, more nearly than any other 
known to me, my own feeling about the universe and human 






Dear to me always was this lonely hill 

And this hedge that excludes so large a part 

Of the ultimate horizon from my view. 

But as I sit and gaze, my thought conceives 

Interminable vastnesses of space 

Beyond it, and unearthly silences, 

And profoundest calm; whereat my heart almost 

Becomes dismayed. And as I hear the wind 

Blustering through these branches, I find myself 

Comparing with this sound that infinite silence; 

And then I call to mind eternity, 

And the ages that are dead, and this that now 

Is living, and the noise of it. And so 

In this immensity my thought sinks drowned : 

And sweet it seems to shipwreck in this sea. 

But this has become an old-fashioned way of feeling. 
Science used to be valued as a means of getting to know the 
world; now, owing to the triumph of technique, it is con- 
ceived as showing how to change the world. The new point 
of view, which is adopted in practice throughout America 
and Russia, and in theory by many modern philosophers, 
was first proclaimed by Marx in 1845, in his Theses on 
Feuerbach. He says: 

The question whether objective truth belongs to human thinking 
is not a question of theory, but a practical question. The truth, i.e. 
the reality and power, of thought must be demonstrated in practice. 
The contest as to the reality or non-reality of a thought which is 
isolated from practice, is a purely scholastic question. . . . 

1 Translation by R. C. Trevelyan from Translations from Leopardi; 
Cambridge University Press, 1941. 



Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, but 
the real task is to alter it. 

From the point of view of technical philosophy, this theory 
has been best developed by John Dewey, who is universally 
acknowledged as America's most eminent philosopher. 

This philosophy has two aspects, one thoretical and the 
other ethical. On the theoretical side, it analyzes away the 
concept "truth," for which it substitutes "utility." It used 
to be thought that, if you believed Caesar crossed the Rubi- 
con, you believed truly, because Caesar did cross the 
Rubicon. Not so, say the philosophers we are considering: to 
say that your belief is "true" is another way of saying that 
you will find it more profitable than the opposite belief. I 
might object that there have been cases of historical beliefs 
which, after being generally accepted for a long time, have in 
the end been admitted to be mistaken. In the case of such 
beliefs, every examinee would find the accepted falsehood of 
his time more profitable than the as yet unacknowledged 
truth. But this kind of objection is swept aside by the con- 
tention that a belief may be "true" at one time and "false" 
at another. In 1920 it was "true" that Trotsky had a great 
part in the Russian Revolution; in 1930 it was "false." The 
results of this view have been admirably worked out in 
George Orwell's "1984." 

This philosophy derives its inspiration from science in 
several different ways. Take first its best aspect, as developed 
by Dewey. He points out that scientific theories change from 
time to time, and that what recommends a theory is that it 
"works." When new phenomena are discovered, for which it 
no longer "works," it is discarded. A theory— so Dewey 
concludes — is a tool like another; it enables us to manipulate 


raw material. Like any other tool, it is judged good or bad 
by its efficiency in this manipulation, and like any other tool, 
it is good at one time and bad at another. While it is good it 
may be called "true," but this word must not be allowed its 
usual connotations. Dewey prefers the phrase "warranted 
assertibility" to the word "truth." 

The second source of the theory is technique. What do we 
want to know about electricity? Only how to make it work 
for us. To want to know more is to plunge into useless 
metaphysics. Science is to be admired because it gives us 
power over nature, and the power comes wholly from 
technique. Therefore an interpretation which reduces 
science to technique keeps all the useful part, and dismisses 
only a dead weight of medieval lumber. If technique is all 
that interests you, you are likely to find this argument very 

The third attraction of prgamatism — which cannot be 
wholly separated from the second — is love of power. Most 
men's desires are of various kinds. There are the pleasures of 
sense; there are aesthetic pleasures and pleasures of contem- 
plation; there are private affections; and there is power. In 
an individual, any one of these may acquire predominance 
over the others. If love of power dominates, you arrive at 
Marx's view that what is important is not to understand the 
world, but to change it. Traditional theories of knowledge 
were invented by men who loved contemplation — a monkish 
taste, according to modern devotees of mechanism. Mecha- 
nism augments human power to an enormous degree. It is 
therefore this aspect of science that attracts the lovers of 
power. And if power is all you want from science, the 
pragmatist theory gives you just what you want, without 
accretions that to you seem irrelevant. It gives you even 
more than you could have expected, for if you control the 


police it gives you the godlike power of making truth. You 
cannot make the sun cold, but you can confer pragmatic 
"truth" on the proposition "the sun is cold" if you can 
ensure that everyone who denies it is liquidated. I doubt 
whether Zeus could do more. 

This engineer's philosophy, as it may be called, is dis- 
tinguished from common sense and from most other philoso- 
phies by its rejection of "fact" as a fundamental concept in 
defining "truth." If you say, for example, "the South Pole 
is cold," you say something which, according to traditional 
views, is "true" in virtue of a "fact," namely that the South 
Pole is cold. And this is a fact, not because people believe 
it, or because it pays to believe it; it just is a fact. Facts, when 
they are not about human beings and their doings, represent 
the limitations of human power. We find ourselves in a 
universe of a certain sort, and we find out what sort of 
universe it is by observation, not by self-assertion. It is true 
that we can make changes on or near the surface of the earth, 
but not elsewhere. Practical men have no wish to make 
changes elsewhere, and can therefore accept a philosophy 
which treats the surface of the earth as if it were the whole 
universe. But even on the surface of the earth our power is 
limited. To forget that we are hemmed in by facts which are 
for the most part independent of our desires is a form of 
insane megalomania. This kind of insanity has grown up as a 
result of the triumph of scientific technique. Its latest 
manifestation is Stalin's refusal to believe that heredity can 
have the temerity to ignore Soviet decrees, which is like 
Xerxes whipping the Hellespont to teach Poseidon a lesson. 

"The pragmatic theory of truth [I wrote in 1907] is 
inherently connected with the appeal to force. If there is a 
non-human truth, which one man may know while another 
does not, there is a standard outside the disputants, to which, 


we may urge, the dispute ought to be submitted; hence a 
pacific and judicial settlement of disputes is at least theoreti- 
cally possible. If, on the contrary, the only way of discover- 
ing which of the disputants is in the right is to wait and see 
which of them is successful, there is no longer any principle 
except force by which the issue can be decided. ... In 
international matters, owing to the fact that the disputants 
are often strong enough to be independent of outside control, 
these considerations become more important. The hopes of 
international peace, like the achievement of internal peace, 
depend upon the creation of an effective force of public 
opinion formed upon an estimate of the rights and wrongs of 
disputes. Thus it would be misleading to say that the dispute 
is decided by force, without adding that force is dependent 
upon justice. But the possibility of such a public opinion de- 
pends upon the possibility of a standard of justice which is a 
cause, not an effect, of the wishes of the community; and 
such a standard of justice seems incompatible with the 
pragmatist philosophy. This philosophy, therefore, although 
it begins with liberty and toleration, develops, by inherent 
necessity, into the appeal to force and the arbitrament of the 
big battalions. By this development it becomes equally 
adapted to democracy at home and to imperialism abroad. 
Thus here again it is more delicately adjusted to the require- 
ments of the time than any other philosophy which has 
hitherto been invented. 

"To sum up: Pragmatism appeals to the temper of mind 
which finds on the surface of this planet the whole of its 
imaginative material; which feels confident of progress, and 
unaware of non-human limitations to human power; which 
loves battle, with all the attendant risks, because it has no 
real doubt that it will achieve victory; which desires religion, 


as it desires railways and electric light, as a comfort and a 
help in the affairs of this world, not as providing non-human 
objects to satisfy the hunger for perfection. But for those who 
feel that life on this planet would be a life in prison if it were 
not for the windows into a greater world beyond; for those 
to whom a belief in man's omnipotence seems arrogant; who 
desire rather the stoic freedom that comes of mastery over 
the passions than the Napoleonic domination that sees the 
kingdoms of this world at its feet — in a word, to men who 
do not find man an adequate object of their worship, the 
pragmatist' s world will seem narrow and petty, robbing life 
of all that gives it value, and making man himself smaller by 
depriving the universe which he contemplates of all its 

Let us now try to sum up what increases in human happi- 
ness science has rendered possible, and what ancient evils it is 
in danger of intensifying. 

I do not pretend that there is any way of arriving at the 
millennium. Whatever our social institutions, there will be 
death and illness (though in a diminishing quantity) ; there 
will be old age and insanity; there will be either danger or 
boredom. So long as the present family survives, there will be 
unrequited love and parents' tyranny and children's ingrati- 
tude; and if something new were substituted for the family, 
it would bring new evils, probably worse. Human life cannot 
be made a matter of unalloyed bliss, and to allow oneself 
excessive hopes is to court disappointment. Nevertheless 
what can be soberly hoped is very considerable. In what 
follows, I am not prophesying what will happen, but pointing 
out the best that may happen, and the further fact that this 
best will happen if it is widely desired. 


There are two ancient evils that science, unwisely used, 
may intensify: they are tyranny and war. But I am concerned 
now rather with pleasant possibilities than with unpleasant 

Science can confer two kinds of benefits : it can diminish 
bad things, and it can increase good things. Let us begin with 
the former. 

Science can abolish poverty and excessive hours of labor. 
In the earliest human communities, before agriculture, each 
human individual required two or more square miles to sus- 
tain life. Subsistence was precarious and death from starva- 
tion must have been frequent. At that stage, men had the same 
mixture of misery and carefree enjoyment as still makes up 
the lives of other animals. 

Agriculture was a technical advance of the same kind of 
importance as attaches to modern machine industry. The 
way that agriculture was used is an awful warning to our age. 
It introduced slavery and serfdom, human sacrifice, absolute 
monarchy and large wars. Instead of raising the standard of 
life, except for a tiny governing minority, it merely in- 
creased the population. On the whole, it probably increased 
the sum of human misery. It is not impossible that indus- 
trialism may take the same course. 

Fortunately, however, the growth of industrialism has 
coincided in the West with the growth of democracy. It is 
possible now, if the population of the world does not increase 
too fast, for one man's labor to produce much more than is 
needed to provide a bare subsistence for himself and his 
family. Given an intelligent democracy not misled by some 
dogmatic creed, this possibility will be used to raise the 
standard of life. It has been so used, to a limited extent, in 
Britain and America, and would have been so used more 


effectively but for war. Its use in raising the standard of life 
has depended mainly upon three things: democracy, trade 
unionism, and birth control. All three, of course, have in- 
curred hostility from the rich. If these three things can be 
extended to the rest of the world as it becomes industrialized, 
and if the danger of great wars can be eliminated, poverty 
can be abolished throughout the whole world and excessive 
hours of labor will no longer be necessary anywhere. But 
without these three things, industrialism will create a regime 
like that in which the Pharaohs built the pyramids. In 
particular, if world population continues to increase at the 
present rate, the abolition of poverty and excessive work 
will be totally impossible. 

Science has already conferred an immense boon on man- 
kind by the growth of medicine. In the eighteenth century 
people expected most of their children to die before they were 
grown up. Improvement began at the beginning of the nine- 
teenth century, chiefly owing to vaccination. It has contin- 
ued ever since and is still continuing. In 1920 the infant 
mortality in England and Wales was 80 per thousand, in 
1948 it was 34 per thousand. The general death rate in 1948 
(10 -8) was the lowest ever recorded up to that date. There 
is no obvious limit to the improvement of health that can be 
brought about by medicine. The sum of human suffering has 
also been much diminished by the discovery of anesthetics. 

The general diminution of lawlessness and crimes of 
violence would not have been possible without science. If 
you read eighteenth-century novels, you get a strange im- 
pression of London: unlighted streets, footpads and high- 
waymen, nothing that we should count as a police force, but, 
in a futile attempt to compensate for all this, an abominably 
savage and ferocious criminal law. Street lighting, telephones, 


finger-printing, and the psychology of crime and punishment 
are scientific advances which have made it possible for the 
police to reduce crime below anything that the most Utopian 
philosopher of the "Age of Reason" would have imagined 

Coming now to positive goods, there is, to begin with, an 
immense increase of education which has been rendered 
possible by the increased productivity of labor. As regards 
general education, this is most marked in America, where 
even university education is free. If I took a taxi in New 
York, I would often find that the driver was a Ph.D., who 
would start arguing about philosophy at imminent risk to 
himself and me. But in England as well as in America the 
improvement at the highest level is equally remarkable. 
Read, for instance, Gibbon's account of Oxford. 

With this goes an increase of opportunity. It is much 
easier than it used to be for an able young man without what 
are called "natural" advantages (i.e. inherited wealth) to 
rise to a position in which he can make the best use of his 
talents. In this respect there is still much to be done, but 
there is every reason to expect that in England and in Amer- 
ica it will be done. The waste of talent in former times must 
have been appalling; I shudder to think how many "mute 
inglorious Miltons" there must have been. Our modern 
Miltons, alas, remain for the most part inglorious, though 
not mute. But ours is not a poetic age. 

Finally, there is more diffused happiness than ever before, 
and if the fear of war were removed this improvement would 
be very much greater than it is. 

Let us consider for a moment the kind of disposition that 
must be widely diffused if a good world is to be created and 


I will begin with the intellectual temper that is required. 
There must be in many a desire to know the important facts, 
and in most an unwillingness to give assent to pleasant illu- 
sions. There are in the world at the present day two great 
opposing systems of dogma: Catholicism and Communism. 
If you believe either with such intensity that you are pre- 
pared to face martyrdom, you can live a happy life, and even 
enjoy a happy death if it comes quickly. You can inspire 
converts, you can create an army, you can stir up hatred of 
the opposite dogma and its adherents, and generally you can 
seem immensely effective. I am constantly asked: What can 
you, with your cold rationalism, offer to the seeker after 
salvation that is comparable to the cozy homelike comfort of 
a fenced-in dogmatic creed? 

To this the answer is many-sided. In the first place, I do 
not say that I can offer as much happiness as is to be ob- 
tained by the abdication of reason. I do not say that I can 
offer as much happiness as is to be obtained from drink or 
drugs or amassing great wealth by swindling widows and 
orphans. It is not the happiness of the individual convert that 
concerns me; it is the happiness of mankind. If you genuinely 
desire the happiness of mankind, certain forms of ignoble 
personal happiness are not open to you. If your child is ill, 
and you are a conscientious parent, you accept medical 
diagnosis, however doubtful and discouraging; if you accept 
the cheerful opinion of a quack and your child consequently 
dies, you are not excused by the pleasantness of belief in the 
quack while it lasted. If people loved humanity as genuinely 
as they love their children, they would be as unwilling in 
politics as in the home to let themselves be deceived by 
comfortable fairy tales. 

The next point is that all fanatical creeds do harm. This is 


obvious when they have to compete with other fanaticisms, 
since in that case they promote hatred and strife. But it is 
true even when only one fanatical creed is in the field. It can- 
not allow free inquiry, since this might shake its hold. It must 
oppose intellectual progress. If, as is usually the case, it 
involves a priesthood, it gives great power to a caste profes- 
sionally devoted to maintenance of the intellectual status quo 
and to a pretense of certainty where in fact there is no cer- 

Every fanatical creed essentially involves hatred. I knew 
once a fanatical advocate of an international language, but he 
preferred Ido to Esperanto. Listening to his conversation, I 
was appalled by the depravity of the Esperantists, who, it 
seemed, had sunk to hitherto unimaginable depths of wicked- 
ness. Luckily, my friend failed to convince any government, 
and so the Esperantists survived. But if he had been at the 
head of a State of two hundred million inhabitants, I shudder 
to think what would have happened to them. 

Very often the element of hatred in a fanatical doctrine 
becomes predominant. People who tell you they love the 
proletariat often in fact only hate the rich. Some people who 
believe that you should love your neighbor as yourself think 
it right to hate those who do not do so. As these are the vast 
majority, no notable increase of loving-kindness results 
from their creed. 

Apart from such specific evils, the whole attitude of 
accepting a belief unquestioningly on a basis of authority is 
contrary to the scientific spirit, and, if widespread, scarcely 
compatible with the progress of science. Not only the Bible, 
but even the works of Marx and Engels, contain demon- 
strably false statements. The Bible says the hare chews the 
cud, and Engels said that the Austrians would win the war of 


1866. These are only arguments against fundamentalists. 
But when a Sacred Book is retained while fundamentalism is 
rejected, the authority of The Book becomes vested in the 
priesthood. The meaning of "dialectical materialism" changes 
every decade, and the penalty for a belated interpretation 
is death or the concentration camp. 

The triumphs of science are due to the substitution of 
observation and inference for authority. Every attempt to 
revive authority in intellectual matters is a retrograde step. 
And it is part of the scientific attitude that the pronounce- 
ments of science do not claim to be certain, but only to be the 
most probable on present evidence. One of the greatest 
benefits that science confers upon those who understand its 
spirit is that it enables them to live without the delusive 
support of subjective certainty. That is why science cannot 
favor persecution. 

The desire for a fanatical creed is one of the great evils of 
our time. There have been other ages with the same disease: 
the late Roman Empire and the sixteenth century are the 
most obvious examples. When Rome began to decay, and 
when, in the third century, barbarian irruptions produced 
fear and impoverishment, men began to look for safety in 
another world. Plotinus found it in Plato's eternal world, 
the followers of Mithra in a solar paradise, and the Christians 
in heaven. The Christians won, largely because their dog- 
matic certainty was the greatest. Having won, they started 
persecuting each other for small deviations, and hardly had 
leisure to notice the barbarian invaders except to observe that 
they were Arians — the ancient equivalent of Trotskyites. 
The religious fervor of that time was a product of fear and 
despair; so is the religious fervor — Christian or communist — 
of our age. It is an irrational reaction to danger, tending to 


bring about what it fears. Dread of the hydrogen bomb pro- 
motes fanaticism, and fanaticism is more likely than any- 
thing else to lead to actual use of the hydrogen bomb. 
Heavenly salvation perhaps, if the fanatics are right, but 
earthly salvation is not to be found along that road. 

I will say a few words about the connection of love with 
intellectual honesty. There are several different attitudes 
that may be adopted towards the spectacle of intolerable 
suffering. If you are a sadist, you may find pleasure in it; if 
you are completely detached, you may ignore it; if you are a 
sentimentalist, you may persuade yourself that it is not as 
bad as it seems; but if you feel genuine compassion you will 
try to apprehend the evil truly in order to be able to cure 
it. The sentimentalist will say that you are coldly intellectual, 
and that, if you really minded the sufferings of others, you 
could not be so scientific about them. The sentimentalist 
will claim to have a tenderer heart than yours, and will show 
it by letting the suffering continue rather than suffer himself. 

There is a tender hearted lady in Gilbert and Sullivan who 
remarks : 

I heard one day 
A gentleman say 
That criminals who 
Are sawn in two 
Do not much feel 

The fatal steel 
But come in twain 
Without much pain. 
If this be true 
How lucky for you. 

Similarly, the men who made the Munich surrender 
would pretend, (a) that the Nazis didn't go in for pogroms, 
(b) that Jews enjoyed being massacred. And fellow-travelers 
maintain, (a) that there is no forced labor in Russia, (b) that 
there is nothing Russians find more delectable than being 



worked to death in an arctic winter. Such men are not "coldly 

The most disquiting psychological feature of our time, 
and the one which affords the best argument for the necessity 
of some creed, however irrational, is the death wish. Every- 
one knows how some primitive communities, brought sud- 
denly into contact with white men, become listless, and 
finally die from mere absence of the will to live. In Western 
Europe, the new conditions of danger which exist are having 
something of the same effect. Facing facts is painful, and the 
way out is not clear. Nostalgia takes the place of energy 
directed towards the future. There is a tendency to shrug the 
shoulders and say, "Oh well, if we are exterminated by 
hydrogen bombs, it will save a lot of trouble." This is a tired 
and feeble reaction, like that of the late Romans to the bar- 
barians. It can only be met by courage, hope, and a reasoned 
optimism. Let us see what basis there is for hope. 

First: 1 have no doubt that, leaving on one side, for the 
moment, the danger of war, the average level of happiness, 
in Britain as well as in America, is higher than in any previous 
community at any time. Moreover improvement continues 
whenever there is not war. We have therefore something 
important to conserve. 

There are certain things that our age needs, and certain 
things that it should avoid. It needs compassion and a wish 
that mankind should be happy; it needs the desire for knowl- 
edge and the determination to eschew pleasant myths; it 
needs, above all, courageous hope and the impulse to creative- 
ness. The things that it must avoid, and that have brought it 
to the brink of catastrophe, are cruelty, envy, greed, com- 
petitiveness, search for irrational subjective certainty, and 
what Freudians call the death wish. 


The root of the matter is a very simple and old-fashioned 
thing, a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention 
it, for fear of the derisive smile with which wise cynics will 
greet my words. The thing I mean — please forgive me for 
mentioning it — is love, Christian love, or compassion. If you 
feel this, you have a motive for existence, a guide in action, 
a reason for courage, an imperative necessity for intellectual 
honesty. If you feel this, you have all that anybody should 
need in the way of religion. Although you may not find 
happiness, you will never know the deep despair of those 
whose life is aimless and void of purpose; for there is always 
something that you can do to diminish the awful sum of 
human misery. 

What I do want to stress is that the kind of lethargic 
despair which is now not uncommon, is irrational. Mankind 
is in the position of a man climbing a difficult and dangerous 
precipice, at the summit of which there is a plateau of deli- 
cious mountain meadows. With every step that he climbs, his 
fall, if he does fall, becomes more terrible; with every step 
his weariness increases and the ascent grows more difficult. 
At last there is only one more step to be taken, but the 
climber does not know this, because he cannot see beyond 
the jutting rocks at his head. His exhaustion is so complete 
that he wants nothing but rest. If he lets go he will find rest 
in death. Hope calls: "One more effort — perhaps it will be 
the last effort needed." Irony retorts: "Silly fellow! Haven't 
you been listening to hope all this time, and see where it has 
landed you." Optimism says: "While there is life there is 
hope." Pessimism growls: "While there is life there is pain." 
Does the exhausted climber make one more effort, or does 
he let himself sink into the abyss? In a few years those of us 
who are still alive will know the answer. 


Dropping metaphor, the present situation is as follows: 
Science offers the possibility of far greater well-being for 
the human race than has ever been known before. It offers 
this on certain conditions: abolition of war, even distribution 
of ultimate power, and limitation of the growth of popula- 
tion. All these are much nearer to being possible than they 
ever were before. In Western industrial countries, the 
growth of population is almost nil; the same causes will have 
the same effect in other countries as they become modern- 
ized, unless dictators and missionaries interfere. The even 
distribution of ultimate power, economic as well as political, 
has been nearly achieved in Britain, and other democratic 
countries are rapidly moving towards it. The prevention of 
war? It may seem a paradox to say that we are nearer to 
achieving this than ever before, but I am persuaded that it is 
true. I will explain why I think so. 

In the past, there were many sovereign States, any two of 
which might at any moment quarrel. Attempts on the lines 
of the League of Nations were bound to fail, because, when 
a dispute arose, the disputants were too proud to accept out- 
side arbitration, and the neutrals were too lazy to enforce it. 
Now there are only two sovereign States: Russia (with 
satellites) and the United States (with satellites) . If either 
becomes preponderant, either by victory in war or by an 
obvious military superiority, the preponderant Power can 
establish a single Authority over the whole world, and thus 
make future wars impossible. At first this Authority will, in 
certain regions, be based on force, but if the Western nations 
are in control, force will as soon as possible give way to 
consent. When that has been achieved, the most difficult of 
world problems will have been solved, and science can be- 
come wholly beneficent. 



I do not think there is reason to fear that such a regime, 
once established, would be unstable. The chief causes of 
large-scale violence are: love of power, competition, hate and 
fear. Love of power will have no national outlet when all 
serious military force is concentrated in the international 
army. Competition will be effectively regulated by law, and 
mitigated by governmental controls. Fear — in the acute form 
in which we know it — will disappear when war is no longer 
to be expected. There remains hate and malevolence. This 
has a deep hold on human nature. We all believe at once any 
gossip discreditable to our neighbors, however slender the 
evidence may be. After the First World War many people 
hated Germany so much that they could not believe in injury 
to themselves as a necessary result of extreme severity to the 
Germans. One sees in Congress a widespread reluctance to 
admit that self-preservation requires help to Western Europe. 
America wishes to sell without buying, but finds that this 
often involves giving rather than selling; the benefit to the 
recipients is felt by many to be almost unendurable. This 
wide diffusion of malevolence is one of the most unfortunate 
things in human nature, and it must be lessened if a world 
State is to be stable. 

I am persuaded that it can be lessened, and very quickly. 
If peace becomes secure there will be a very rapid increase of 
material prosperity, and this tends more than anything else to 
provide a mood of kindly feeling. Consider the immense 
diminution of cruelty in Britain during the Victorian Age; 
this was mainly due to rapidly increasing wealth in all 
classes. I think we may confidently expect a similar effect 
throughout the world owing to the increased wealth that 
will result from the elimination of war. A great deal, also, is 
to be hoped from a change in propaganda. Nationalist propa- 


ganda, in any violent form, will have to be illegal, and chil- 
dren in schools will not be taught to hate and despise foreign 
nations. Active instruction in the evils of the old times and the 
advantages of the new system would do the rest. I am con- 
vinced that only a few psychopaths would wish to return to 
the daily dread of radioactive disintegration. 

What stands in the way? Not physical or technical 
obstacles, but only the evil passions in human minds: sus- 
picion, fear, lust for power, hatred, intolerance. I will not 
deny that these evil passions are more dominant in the East 
than in the West, but they certainly exist in the West as well. 
The human race could, here and now, begin a rapid approach 
to a vastly better world, given one single condition: the 
removal of mutual distrust between East and West. I do not 
know what can be done to fulfill this condition. Most of the 
suggestions that I have seen have struck me as silly. Mean- 
while the only thing to do is to prevent an explosion some- 
how, and to hope that time may bring wisdom. The near 
future must either be much better or much worse than the 
past; which it is to be will be decided within the next few 


Can a Scientific Society 
Be Stable? 1 

IN this final chapter I wish to consider a purely scientific 
question, namely: Can a society in which thought and 
technique are scientific persist for a long period, as, for 
example, ancient Egypt persisted, or does it necessarily con- 
tain within itself forces which must bring either decay or 

I will begin with some explanation of the question with 
which I am concerned. I call a society "scientific" in the 
degree to which scientific knowledge, and technique based 
upon that knowledge, affects its daily life, its economics, and 
its political organization. This, of course, is a matter of 
degree. Science in its early stages had few social effects 
except upon the small number of learned men who took an 
interest in it, but in recent times it has been transforming or- 
dinary life with ever-increasing velocity. 

I am using the word "stable" as it is used in physics. A top 
is "stable" so long as it rotates with more than a certain 

1 This chapter was first delivered as the Lloyd Roberts Lecture given 
at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, on November 29, 1949. 




speed; then it becomes unstable and the top falls over. An 
atom which is not radioactive is "stable" until a nuclear 
physicist gets hold of it. A star is "stable" for millions of 
years, and then one day it explodes. It is in this sense that I 
wish to ask whether the kind of society that we are creating 
is "stable." 

I want to emphasize that the question I am asking is purely 
factual. I am not considering whether it is better to be stable 
or to be unstable; that is a question of values, and lies outside 
the scope of scientific discussion. I am asking whether, in 
fact, it is probable or improbable that soci ety will persist in 
being scientific. If it does, it must almost inevitably grow 
progressively more and more scientific, since new knowl- 
edge will accumulate. If it does not, there may be either a 
gradual decay, like the cooling of the sun by radiation, or a 
violent transformation, like those that cause novae to appear 
in the heavens. The former would show itself in exhaustion, 
the latter in revolution or unsuccessful war. 

The problem is extremely speculative, as appears when we 
consider the time scale. Astronomers tell us that in all likeli- 
hood the earth will remain habitable for very many millions 
of years. Man has existed for about a million years. There- 
fore if all goes well his future should be immeasurably longer 
than his past. 

Broadly speaking, we are in the middle of a race between 
human skill as to means and human folly as to ends. Given 
sufficient folly as to ends, every increase in the skill required 
to achieve them is to the bad. The human race has survived 
hitherto owing to ignorance and imcompetence; but, given 
knowledge and competence combined with folly, there can 
be no certainty of survival. Knowledge is power, but it is 
power for evil just as much as for good. It follows that, 


unless men increase in wisdom as much as in knowledge, 
increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow. 


Possible causes of instability may be grouped under three 
heads: physical, biological, and psychological. I will begin 
with the physical causes. 


Both industry and agriculture, to a continually increasing 
degree, are carried on in ways that waste the world's capital 
of natural resources. In agriculture this has always been the 
case since man first tilled the soil, except in places like the 
Nile Valley, where there were very exceptional conditions. 
While population was sparse, people merely moved on when 
their former fields became unsatisfactory. Then it was found 
that corpses could be used as fertilizers, and human sacrifice 
became common. This had the double advantage of increas- 
ing the yield and diminishing the number of mouths to be fed; 
nevertheless the method came to be frowned upon, and its 
place was taken by war. Wars, however, were not suffi- 
ciently destructive of human life to prevent the survivors 
from suffering, and the exhaustion of the soil has continued 
at a constantly increasing rate right down to our own day. 
At last the creation of the Dust Bowl in the United States 
compelled attention to the problem. It is now known what 
must be done if the world's supply of food is not to diminish 
catastrophically. But whether what is necessary will be done 
is a very doubtful question. The demand for food is so 
insistent, and the immediate profit so great, that only a 
strong and intelligent government can enforce the required 
measures; and in many parts of the world governments are 


not both strong and intelligent. I am for the present ignoring 
the population problem, which I shall consider presently. 

Raw materials, in the long run, present just as grave a 
problem as agriculture. Cornwall produced tin from Phoeni- 
cian times until very lately; now the tin of Cornwall is 
exhausted. Lightheartedly, the world contents itself with 
observing that there is tin in Malaya, forgetting that that too 
will be used up presently. Sooner or later all easily accessible 
tin will have been used up, and the same is true of most raw 
materials. The most pressing, at the moment, is oil. Without 
oil a nation cannot, with our present techniques, prosper 
industrially or defend itself in war. The supply is being 
rapidly depleted, and will be used up even more swiftly in the 
wars that are to be expected for possession of such supplies 
as will remain. Of course I shall be told that atomic energy 
will replace oil as a source of power. But what will happen 
when all the available uranium and thorium have done their 
work of killing men and fishes? 

The indisputable fact is that industry — and agriculture in 
so far as it uses artificial fertilizers — depends upon irreplace- 
able materials and sources of energy. No doubt science will 
discover new sources as the need arises, but this will involve 
a gradual decrease in the yield of a given amount of land and 
labor, and in any case is an essentially temporary expedient. 
The world has been living on capital, and so long as it re- 
mains industrial it must continue to do so. This is one ines- 
capable though perhaps rather distant source of instability in 
a scientific society. 


I come now to the biological aspects of our question. If we 
estimate the biological success of a species by its numbers it 



must be admitted that man has been most remarkably suc- 
cessful. In his early days man must have been a very rare 
species". His two great advantages — the capacity of using his 
hands to manipulate tools, and the power of transmitting 
experience and invention by means of language — are slowly 
cumulative: at first there were few tools and there was little 
knowledge to transmit; moreover, no one knows at what 
stage language developed. However that may be, there were 
three great advances by means of which the human population 
of the globe was increased. The first was the taming of the 
animals that became domestic; the second was the adoption 
of agriculture; and the third was the industrial revolution. 
By means of these three advances men have become enor- 
mously more numerous than any species of large wild 
animals. Sheep and cattle owe their large numbers to human 
care; as competitors with man large mammals have no chance, 
as appears from the virtual extinction of the buffalo. 

It is with trepidation that I advance my next thesis, which 
is this. Medicine cannot, except over a short period, increase 
the population of the world. No doubt if medicine in the 
fourteenth century had known how to combat the Black 
Death the population of Europe in the latter half of the 
fourteenth century would have been larger than it was. But 
the deficiency was soon made up to its Malthusian level by 
natural increase. In China, European and American medical 
missions do much to diminish the infant death rate; the 
consequence is that more children die painfully of famine at 
the age of five or six. The benefit to mankind is very ques- 
tionable. Except where the birth rate is low the population in 
the long run depends upon the food supply and upon nothing 
else. In the Western world the fall in the birth rate has for 
the time being falsified Malthus's doctrine. But until lately 


this doctrine was true throughout the world, and it is still 
true in the densely populated countries of the East. 

What has science done to increase population? In the first 
place, by machinery, fertilizers, and improved breeds it has 
increased the yield per acre and the yield per man-hour of 
labor. This is a direct effect. But there is another which is 
perhaps more important, at least for the moment. By im- 
provement in means of transport it has become possible for 
one region to produce an excess of food while another 
produces an excess of industrial products or raw materials. 
This makes it possible — as for instance in our own country — 
for a region to contain a larger population than its own food 
resources could support. Assuming free mobility of persons 
and goods, it is only necessary that the whole world should 
produce enough food for the population of the whole world, 
provided the regions of deficient food production have some- 
thing to offer which the regions of surplus food production 
are willing to accept in exchange for food. But this condition 
is apt to fail in bad times. In Russia, after the First World 
War, the peasants had just about the amount of food they 
wanted for themselves, and would not willingly part with 
any of it for the purchase of urban products. At that time, 
and again during the famine in the early thirties, the urban 
population was kept alive only by the energetic use of armed 
force. In the famine, as a result of government action, millions 
of peasants died of starvation; if the government had been 
neutral the town-dwellers would have died. 

Such considerations point to a conclusion which, it seems 
to me, is too often ignored. Industry, except in so far as it 
ministers directly to the needs of agriculture, is a luxury: 
in bad times its products will be unsalable, and only force 
directed against food-producers can keep industrial workers 



alive, and that only if very many food-producers are left to 
die. If bad times become common, it must be inferred that 
industry will dwindle and that the industrialization char- 
acteristic of the last 1 50 years will be rudely checked. 

But bad times, you may say, are exceptional, and can be 
dealt with by exceptional methods. This has been more or 
less true during the honeymoon period of industrialism, but 
it will not remain true unless the increase of population can 
be enormously diminished. At present the population of the 
world is increasing at about 58,000 per diem. War, so far, 
has had no very great effect on this increase, which continued 
throughout each of the world wars. Until the last quarter of 
the nineteenth century this increase was more rapid in 
advance countries than in backward ones, but now it is 
almost wholly confined to very poor countries. Of these, 
China and India are numerically the most important, while 
Russia is the most important in world politics. But I want, 
for the present, to confine myself, so far as I can, to biological 
considerations, leaving world politics on one side. 

What is the inevitable result if the increase of population 
is not checked? There must be a very general lowering of the 
standard of life in what are now prosperous countries. With 
that lowering there must go a great diminution in the demand 
for industrial products. Detroit will have to give up making 
private cars, and confine itself to lorries. Such things as books, 
pianos, watches will become the rare luxuries of a few excep- 
tionally powerful men — notably those who control the army 
and the police. In the end there will be a uniformity of misery, 
and the Malthusian law will reign unchecked. The world 
having been technically unified, population will increase when 
world harvests are good, and diminish by starvation when- 
ever they are bad. Most of the present urban and industrial 


centers will have become derelict, and their inhabitants, if 
still alive, will have reverted to the peasant hardships of their 
medieval ancestors. The world will have achieved a new 
stability, but at the cost of everything that gives value to 
human life. 

Are mere numbers so important that, for their sake, we 
should patiently permit such a state of affairs to come about? 
Surely not. What, then, can we do? Apart from certain deep- 
seated prejudices, the answer would be obvious. The nations 
which at present increase rapidly should be encouraged to 
adopt the methods by which, in the West, the increase of 
population has been checked. Educational propaganda, with 
government help, could achieve this result in a generation. 
There are, however, two powerful forces opposed to such a 
policy: one is religion, the other is nationalism. I think it is 
the duty of all who are capable of facing facts to realize, 
and to proclaim, that opposition to the spread of birth con- 
trol, if successful, must inflict upon mankind the most ap- 
palling depth of misery and degradation, and that within 
another fifty years or so. 

I do not pretend that birth control is the only way in 
which population can be kept from increasing. There are 
others, which, one must suppose, opponents of birth control 
would prefer. War, as I remarked a moment ago, has hitherto 
been disappointing in this respect, but perhaps bacteriological 
war may prove more effective. If a Black Death could be 
spread throughout the world once in every generation 
survivors could procreate freely without making the world 
too full. There would be nothing in this to offend the con- 
sciences of the devout or to restrain the ambitions of national- 
ists. The state of affairs might be somewhat unpleasant, but 
what of that? Really high-minded people are indifferent to 



happiness, especially other people's. However, I am wander- 
ing from the question of stability, to which I must return. 

There are three ways of securing a society that shall be 
stable as regards population. The first is that of birth control, 
the second that of infanticide or really destructive wars, and 
the third that of general misery except for a powerful minor- 
ity. All these methods have been practiced: the first, for 
example, by the Australian aborigines; the second by the 
Aztecs, the Spartans, and the rulers of Plato's Republic; the 
third in the world as some Western internationalists hope 
to make it and in Soviet Russia. (It is not to be supposed that 
Indians and Chinese like starving, but they have to endure it 
because the armaments of the West are too strong for them.) 
Of these three, only birth control avoids extreme cruelty and 
unhappiness for the majority of human beings. Meanwhile, so 
long as there is not a single world government there will 
be competition for power among the different nations. And 
as increase of population brings the threat of famine, national 
power will become more and more obviously the only way 
of avoiding starvation. There will therefore be blocs in which 
the hungry nations band together against those that are well 
fed. That is the explanation of the victory of communism in 

These considerations prove that a scientific world society 
cannot be stable unless there is a world government. 

It may be said, however, that this is a hasty conclusion. 
All that follows directly from what has been said is that, un- 
less there is a world government which secures universal 
birth control, there must from time to time be great wars, in 
which the penalty of defeat is widespread death by starvation. 
That is exactly the present state of the world, and some may 
hold that there is no reason why it should not continue for 


centuries. I do not myself believe that this is possible. The 
two great wars that we have experienced have lowered the 
level of civilization in many parts of the world, and the next 
is pretty sure to achieve much more in this direction. Unless, 
at some stage, one power or group of powers emerges 
victorious and proceeds to establish a single government of 
the world with a monopoly of armed force, it is clear that 
the level of civilization must continually decline until 
scientific warfare becomes impossible — that is until science is 
extinct. Reduced once more to bows and arrows, Homo 
sapiens might breathe again, and climb anew the dreary road 
to a similar futile culmination. 

The need for a world government, if the population 
problem is to be solved in any humane manner, is completely 
evident on Darwinian principles. Given two groups, of which 
one has an increasing and the other a stationary population, 
the one with the increasing population will (other things 
being equal) in time become the stronger. After victory, it 
will cut down the food supply of the vanquished, of whom 
many will die. 1 Therefore there will be a continually re- 
newed victory of those nations that, from a world point of 
view, are unduly prolific. This is merely the modern form 
of the old struggle for existence. And given scientific powers 
of destruction, a world which allows this struggle to continue 
cannot be stable. 


The psychological conditions of stability in a scientific 
society are to my mind quite as important as the physical and 

1 Some may think this statement unduly brutal. But if they will look 
up newspapers of 1946 they will find, side by side, indignant letters say- 
ing that British labor could not be efficient on a diet of 2,500 calories, and 
that it was preposterous to suppose that a German needed more than 1,200 


biological conditions, but they are much more difficult to 
discuss, because psychology is a less advanced science than 
either physics or biology. Nevertheless, let us make the 

The old rationalist psychology used to assume that if you 
showed a man quite clearly that a certain course of action 
would lead to disaster for himself he would probably avoid it. 
It also took for granted a will to live, except in a negligible 
minority. Chiefly as a result of psychoanalysis this Bentham- 
ite belief that most men pursue their own interest in a more 
or less reasonable way has not now the hold on informed 
opinion that it formerly had. But not very many people, 
among those concerned with politics, have applied modern 
psychology to the explanation of large-scale social phenom- 
ena. This is what I propose, with much diffidence, to at- 

Consider, as the most important illustration, the present 
drift towards a third world war. You are arguing, let us say, 
with an ordinary cheerful nonpolitical and legally sane per- 
son. You point out to him what can be done by atom bombs, 
what Russian occupation of Western Europe would mean in 
suffering and destruction of culture, what poverty and what 
regimentation would result even in the event of a fairly quick 
victory. All this he fully admits, but nevertheless you do not 
achieve the result for which you had hoped. You make his 
flesh creep, but he rather enjoys the sensation. You point out 
the disorganization to be expected, and he thinks: "Well, 
anyhow, I shan't have to go to the office every morning." 
You expatiate on the large number of civilian deaths that will 
take place, and while in the top layer of his mind, he is duly 
horrified, there is a whisper in a deeper layer: "Perhaps I 
shall become a widower, and that might not be so bad." And 



so, to your disgust, he takes refuge in archaic heroism, and 
exclaims : 

Blow wind! come wrack! 

At least we'll die with harness on our back 

or whatever more prosaic equivalent he may prefer. 

Psychologically, there are two opposite maladies which 
have become so common as to be dominant factors in politics. 
One is rage, the other listlessness. The typical example of the 
former was the mentality of the Nazis; of the latter, the 
mentality in France which weakened resistance to Germany 
before and during the war. In less acute forms these two 
maladies exist in other countries, and are, I think, intimately 
bound up with the regimentation which is associated with 
industrialism. Rage causes nations to embark on enterprises 
that are practically certain to be injurious to themselves; 
listlessness causes nations to be careless in warding off evils, 
and generally disinclined to undertake anything arduous. 
Both are the outcome of a deep malaise resulting from lack of 
harmony between disposition and mode of life. 

One cause of this malaise is the rapidity of change in 
material conditions. Savages suddenly subjected to European 
restraints not infrequently die from inability to endure a life 
so different from what they have been accustomed to. When 
I was in Japan in 192 1 I seemed to sense in the people with 
whom I talked, and in the faces of the people I met in the 
streets, a great nervous strain, of the sort likely to promote 
hysteria. I thought this came from the fact that deep-rooted 
unconscious expectations were adapted to old Japan, whereas 
the whole conscious life of town-dwellers was devoted to an 
effort to become as like Americans as possible. Such a malad- 
justment between the conscious and the unconscious was 


bound to produce discouragement or fury, according as the 
person concerned was less or more energetic. The same sort 
of thing happens wherever there is rapid industrialization; it 
must have happened with considerable intensity in Russia. 

But even in a country like our own, where industrialism is 
old, changes occur with a rapidity which is psychologically 
difficult. Consider what has happened during my lifetime. 
When I was a child telephones were new and very rare. 
During my first visit to America I did not see a single motor- 
car. I was thirty-nine when I first saw an airplane. Broad- 
casting and the cinema have made the life of the young pro- 
foundly different from what it was during my own youth. 
As for public life, when I first became politically conscious 
Gladstone and Disraeli still confronted each other amid 
Victorian solidities, the British Empire seemed eternal, a 
threat to British naval supremacy was unthinkable, the 
country was aristocratic and rich and growing richer, and 
socialism was regarded as the fad of a few disgruntled and 
disreputable foreigners. 

For an old man, with such a background, it is difficult to 
feel at home in a world of atomic bombs, communism, and 
American supremacy. Experience, formerly a help in the 
acquisition of political sagacity, is now a positive hindrance, 
because it was acquired in such different conditions. It is 
now scarcely possible for a man to acquire slowly the sort of 
wisdom which in former times caused "elders" to be re- 
spected, because the lessons of experience become out of date 
as fast as they are learned. Science, while it has enormously 
accelerated outward change, has not yet found any way of 
hastening psychological change, especially where the un- 
conscious and subconscious are concerned. Few men's 


unconscious feels at home except in conditions very similar 
to those which prevailed when they were children. 

Rapidity of change, however, is only one of the causes of 
psychological discontent. Another, perhaps more potent, is 
the increasing subordination of individuals to organizations, 
which, so far, has seemed to be an unavoidable feature of a 
scientific society. In a factory containing expensive plant, 
and depending upon the closely co-ordinated labor of many 
people, individual impulses must be completely controlled 
except by the men constituting the management. There is no 
possibility, in working hours, of either adventure or idleness. 
And even outside working hours the opportunities are few 
for most people. Getting from home to work and from work 
to home takes time; at the end of the day there is neither 
time nor money for anything very exciting. And what is true 
of workers in a factory is true, in a greater or less degree, of 
most people in a well-organized modern community. Most 
people, when they are no longer quite young, find themselves 
in a groove — like the man in the limerick, "not a bus, not a 
bus, but a tram." Energetic people become rebellious, quiet 
people become apathetic. War, if it comes, offers an escape. 
I should like a Gallup poll on the question: "Are you more or 
less happy now than during the war?" This question should 
be addressed to both men and women. I think it would be 
found that a very considerable percentage are less happy now 
than then. 

This state of affairs presents a psychological problem 
which is too little considered by statesmen. It is hopeless to 
construct schemes for preserving peace if most people would 
rather not preserve it. As they do not admit, and perhaps do 
do not know, that they would prefer war, their unconscious 



will lead them to prefer specious schemes that are not likely 
to achieve their ostensible purpose. 

The difficulty of the problem arises from the highly 
organic character of modern communities, which makes each 
dependent upon all to a far greater degree than in pre-indus- 
trial times. This makes it necessary to restrain impulse more 
than was formerly necessary. But restraint of impulse, be- 
yond a point, is very dangerous: it causes destructiveness, 
cruelty, and anarchic rebellion. Therefore, if populations are 
not to rise up in a fury and destroy their own creations, 
ways must be found of giving more scope for individuality 
than exists for most people in the modern world. A society is 
not stable unless it is on the whole satisfactory to the holders 
of power and the holders of power are not exposed to the 
risk of successful revolution. But it is also not stable if the 
holders of power embark upon rash adventures, such as those 
of the Kaiser and Hitler. These are the Scylla and Charybdis 
of the psychological problem, and to steer between them is 
not easy. Adventure, yes; but not adventure inspired by 
destructive passions. 


Let us now bring together the conclusions which result 
from our inquiry into the various kinds of conditions that a 
scientific society must fulfill if it is to be stable. 

First, as regards physical conditions. Soil and raw materials 
must not be used up so fast that scientific progress cannot 
continually make good the loss by means of new inventions 
and discoveries. Scientific progress is therefore a condition, 
not merely of social progress, but even of maintaining the 
degree of prosperity already achieved. Given a stationary 
technique, the raw materials that it requires will be used up 



in no very long time. If raw materials are not to be used up 
too fast, there must not be free competition for their acquisi- 
tion and use but an international authority to ration them in 
such quantities as may from time to time seem compatible 
with continued industrial prosperity. And similar considera- 
tions apply to soil conservation. 

Second, as regards population. If there is not to be a 
permanent and increasing shortage of food, agriculture must 
be conducted by methods which are not wasteful of soil, and 
increase of population must not outrun the increase in food 
production rendered possible by technical improvements. At 
present neither condition is fulfilled. The population of the 
world is increasing, and its capacity for food production is 
diminishing. Such a state of affairs obviously cannot continue 
very long without producing a cataclysm. 

To deal with this problem it will be necessary to find ways 
of preventing an increase in world population. If this is to be 
done otherwise than by wars, pestilences, and famines, it will 
demand a powerful international authority. This authority 
should deal out the world's food to the various nations in 
proportion to their population at the time of the establishment 
of the authority. If any nation subsequently increased its 
population it should not on that account receive any more 
food. The motive for not increasing population would there- 
fore be very compelling. What method of preventing an 
increase might be preferred should be left to each State to 

But although this is the logical solution of the problem, it is 
obviously at present totally impracticable. It is quite hard 
enough to create a strong international authority, and it will 
become impossible if it is to have such unpopular duties. 
There are, in fact, two opposite difficulties. If at the present 



moment the world's food were rationed evenly the Western 
nations would suffer what to them would seem starvation. 
But, on the other hand, the poorer nations are those whose 
population increases fastest, and who would suffer most from 
an allocation which was to remain constant. Therefore, as 
things stand, all the world would oppose the logical solution. 

Taking a long view, however, it is by no means impossible 
that the population problem will in time solve itself. Pros- 
perous industrial countries have low birth rates; Western 
nations barely maintain their numbers. If the East were to 
become as prosperous and as industrial as the West, the 
increase of population might become sufficiently slow to 
present no insoluble problem. At present Russia, China, and 
India are the three great reservoirs of procreation and 
poverty. If those countries reached the level of diffused 
well-being now existing in America their surplus popula- 
tion might cease to be a menace to the world. 

In general terms, we may say that so far as the population 
problem is concerned a scientific society could be stable if all 
the world were as prosperous as America is now. The diffi- 
culty, however, is to reach this economic paradise without a 
previous success in limiting population. It cannot be done as 
things are now without an appalling upheaval. Only govern- 
ment propaganda on a large scale could quickly change the 
biological habits of Asia. But most Eastern governments 
would never consent to this except after defeat in war. And 
without such a change of biological habits Asia cannot be- 
come prosperous except by defeating the Western nations, 
exterminating a large part of their population, and opening 
the territories now occupied by them to Asiatic immigration. 
For the Western nations this is not an attractive prospect, but 
it is not impossible that it may happen. Irrational passions 


and convictions are so deeply involved in the problem that 
only an infinitesimal minority, even among highly educated 
people, are willing even to attempt to consider it rationally. 
That is the main reason for a gloomy prognosis. 

Coming, finally, to the psychological conditions of stabil- 
ity, we find again that a high level of economic prosperity is 
essential. This would make it possible to give long holidays 
with full pay. In the days before currency restrictions dons 
and public schoolmasters used to make their lives endurable 
by risking death in the Alps. Given secure peace, a not ex- 
cessive population, and a scientific technique of production, 
there is no reason why such pleasures should not be open to 
everybody. There will be need also of devolution, of a great 
extension of federal forms of government, and of keeping 
alive the kind of semi-independence that now exists in Eng- 
lish universities. But I will not develop this theme, as I have 
dealt with it in my Reith lectures on "Authority and the 

My conclusion is that a scientific society can be stable 
given certain conditions. The first of these is a single govern- 
ment of the whole world, possessing a monopoly of armed 
force and therefore able to enforce peace. The second condi- 
tion is a general diffusion of prosperity, so that there is no 
occasion for envy of one part of the world by another. The 
third condition (which supposes the second fulfilled) is a low 
birth rate everywhere, so that the population of the world 
becomes stationary, or nearly so. The fourth condition is the 
provision for individual initiative both in work and in play, 
and the greatest diffusion of power compatible with main- 
taining the necessary political and economic framework. 

The world is a long way from realizing these conditions, 
and therefore we must expect vast upheavals and appalling 



suffering before stability is attained. But, while upheavals 
and suffering have hitherto been the lot of man, we can now 
see, however dimly and uncertainly, a possible future culmi- 
nation in which poverty and war will have been overcome, 
and fear, where it survives, will have become pathological. 
The road, I fear, is long, but that is no reason for losing sight 
of the ultimate hope. 


Bertrand Arthur William Russell received the Nobel Prize 
for literature in ipjo. He is the grandson of Lord John Russell, 
the British Foreign Secretary during the Civil War. Before 
going to Cambridge he was educated at home by governesses 
and tutors, acquiring a thorough knowledge of German and 
French; and it has been said that his "admirable and lucid Eng- 
lish style may be attributed to the fact that he did not undergo 
a classical education at a public school." Certainly, this style is 
perceptible in the many books that have flowed from his pen 
during half a century — books that have shown him to be the 
most profound of mathematicians, the most brilliant of philoso- 
phers, 'and the most lucid of popularizers. His most recent ma- 
jor works are A History of Western Philosophy, published in 
1945; Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, published in 
1948; Authority and the Individual, published in 1949; Unpopu- 
lar Essays, that grossly mistitled book, published in 19J1; and 
New Hopes for a Changing World, published in 19s 2.